The ability to come away victorious in close games is a great way to determine a team’s viability. In the final five minutes of a close, we see the talent and coaching of each team at the forefront. It’s when we get our best approach to the team ceiling, and the Phoenix Suns prove to be one of the best teams in clutch situations, not just this season, but of all time.
Since this tweet was sent, the Suns have won another pairing game with their 124-121 win over Houston last night. Their record in these games improved to 24-3 with that win. That gives them a .889 win rate – more than 200 points higher than the second best clutch team in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies (17-8).
So, how exactly does this record indicate the viability of Larry O’Brien of the Suns? Well, we can just look at other teams in the league through the same stat. The New York Knicks were a solid team last year. Many people considered them a threat to win the Eastern Conference r. Is it any wonder that their record in clutch matches last year was ninth best in the league (20-16; .556)? In 2021-22 they are considered a disappointment. They are ranked 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 25-34 record. In clutch situations, the Knicks are 22nd in the league (13-18; .419). Basically, champion candidates are usually near the top of the league in this category. Teams can still succeed with a poor pairing record. Look no further than the Utah Jazz, who rank 24th in the NBA with a 12-17 (.414) record. That doesn’t mean they are championship contenders this year. Be real with yourself. Do you really expect the Jazz to beat the Suns, Warriors, Bucks, Bulls, Heat or 76ers in a seven-game run? Be realistic.
Aside from last season’s Milwaukee Bucks and the 2007 San Antonio Spurs, each of the last 15 NBA champions has ranked in the league’s top 10 in clutch record. Now, here’s where things get a little dubious: In the 26 years of pairing data the NBA has, the Suns have the best record in pairing situations — seven points higher than the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors. Those Warriors didn’t win the championship. The next team, the 2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks (.842 clutch record) also failed to win the championship. In fact, those Mavericks were bounced in the first round.
Is this cause for concern for the suns? I doubt it. Those Mavericks came face to face with the ‘We Believe’ Warriors, a team that matched phenomenally well with Dirk Nowitzki and his company. In fact, that season, three of the Mavericks’ 15 total losses came to the Warriors. They did not win a single game against the Warriors in the regular season. That was just an unfortunate circumstance for one of the greatest teams of all time. As for the 2015-16 Warriors, that team got so caught up in chasing the win record that they lost sight of the ultimate goal. They were tired and exhausted by the time they reached the final and it still took a monumental effort from King James to steal that streak in seven games.
Obviously the Suns aren’t as talented as the 2015-16 Warriors were and they don’t have a legendary player in their roster like the 2006-07 Mavericks. That points a huge finger at head coach Monty Williams. The fact that this man manages to put down so many close games with a still great but 36 year old Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton is insane. These are all fantastic players, but they are not four future Hall of Famers like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. Still, the Suns are better at close games than arguably the most talented team in the NBA’s last decade without Warriors with KD.
In the playoffs, the winner of a series often comes down to which team can take a hard-fought win at a pivotal point in the series (Game 3, Game 5, stealing a game on the go, etc.). The Suns have proven that they are the best team in the league. Barring any injuries, they should be everyone’s favorite in the championship.