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Eric Gordon’s FIBA performance is a reminder why he could be the fifth closer for the Suns

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The FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying tournament for the Americas is now complete. With two Phoenix Suns on the roster, the 56th ranked Bohemian team upset the fourth ranked Argentinian team in the final, winning a thrilling game by the final score of 82-75. It was the second time in a week in which the Bahamas defeated Argentina, and while the majority of eyes were on the performance of Deandre Ayton, it was Eric Gordon, who stole the show.

Gordon, who signed a two-year deal with the Suns this offseason, was fantastic in the way that he controlled his game on both ends of the floor throughout the game, scoring 27 points, including 6-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc. He added 3 rebounds and 3 steals to round out his stat line.

Argentina, who was playing in front of a home crowd in Santiago del Estero, was up 6 points midway through the fourth quarter and all momentum was trending in their direction. Enter the veteran presence that is Eric Gordon. As the final minutes approached, Gordon stepped up. Down 75-74 with 1:32 left, Gordon hit a three-pointer that took the wind out of the Argentinian team and hushed their crowd. With the clock expiring the next possession, another three by Gordon put the Bahamas up 80-75 and essentially clinched the game.

“It takes a lot to come into an opponent’s gym, in their country, in a hostile environment,” Bahamas head coach and Golden State Warriors assistant Chris DeMarco stated, “and be as resilient as we were tonight.”

Eric Gordon has previously played for Team USA, making an appearance in the 2010 FIBA World Cup for the team and winning gold. Seeing that his mother is Bohemian, he requested to play for the team this off-season. FIBA granted him his request, and his addition alongside Deandre Ayton, and the Indiana Pacers’ guard Buddy Hield was enough to push the Bahamas to victory in the tournament.

“It means a lot. It’s great to do this for the Bahamas. My mom was born and raised there,” Gordon stated. “I’m just glad we get to advance with these guys.”

The game was thrilling to watch and it’s a reminder how entertaining international basketball is. The way that the game is played, with each team having two less timeouts and without the disturbance of television timeouts, creates a much more urgent and fast paced and rhythm based style of play. Eric Gordon benefited from this as he was truly in rhythm in the ladder stages of the game.

From a Phoenix Suns standpoint, you have to be impressed with both how Gordon and Ayton played throughout the tournament. Ayton, who scored 10 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in the clinching game, averaged 15.5 points on 56.6% shooting with 13.8 rebounds in four games played. If changing the narrative is his goal, winning the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament is one hell of a start. Give me 15 and 14 all season long and the Suns win a ring.

Gordon, however, was the MVP of this team throughout the tournament. He averaged a team high 20.8 points and shot 65% from deep. With the tournament on the line, he stepped up and delivered for his team.

What’s exciting is this is the exact type of player Phoenix needs in the final five minutes of a game.

If you look at who the Suns were last year they were a team that, due to countless injuries, had no identity in the clutch moments of games. In 2021-22, the Suns were historically good in these clutch moments, going 33-9 and with a +107 point differential (second were the Bulls with a +56). Last season regression set in and the team was very average. Phoenix has a 17-19 record with a -19 point differential, good for 19th in the NBA. Injuries, instability in the lineup, midseason trades. All are valid reasons as to why the team wasn’t nearly as successful in the clutch moments.

While much has been debated as to who will be the fifth starter for the Phoenix Suns when the regular season rolls around, Gordon’s performance in the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament is a reminder who the fifth closer should be. You can begin the game with Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, or even Yuta Watanabe. All bring aspects that could benefit the team in different ways, from defensive to offensive, size to shooting.

But when the game is on the line, my vote goes to having Gordon in the game.

He displayed his ability to be cold-blooded against Argentina, on both ends of the floor, and due to his limitless range he creates defensive matchup nightmares for the opposition. With the gravity that Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, and Deandre Ayton will generate, Eric Gordon will have the opportunity to feast from the perimeter if he is part of a closing lineup.

Last season, in splitting time with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, Gordon didn’t get much of a chance to operate in the clutch. Houston was, well, Houston and didn’t provide him much in the way of effecting late-game situations. In their 29 clutch games and 91 clutch minutes with Gordon rostered, which they averaged a league low 6.2 points, the Rockets played EG a total of 57 minutes. The Clippers played Gordon 25.7 minutes of their available 109 clutch time minutes.

In short, Gordon played in 41.4% of his team’s available clutch minutes in 2022-23. Multiple reasons factor into this metric. Roster construction. The fact that Houston is developing young talent. Game situations (being up versus down and vice versa).It is of note that that metric jumped to 68.9% in the postseason for the Clippers.

The Suns have rostered numerous players that are playable in the fourth quarter of tight games. Similar to their starting five, they will have positional flexibility and will be able to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses in a variety of ways. EG is one of those ways. He is seasoned and has displayed an ability to be clutch when his team needs it the most. It will be nice seeing him do the same in purple and orange.

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