The ability to come away victorious in close games is a great way to determine a team’s championship viability. The final five minutes of a close is when we get to see each team’s talent and coaching at the forefront. It’s when we get our best approximation of a team’s ceiling, and by golly, the Phoenix Suns are proving to be one of the best teams in clutch situations, not just this season, but all-time.
Since this tweet was sent out, the Suns won yet another clutch game with their 124-121 win over Houston last night. Their record in these games improved to 24-3 with that victory. That gives them an .889 win percentage — over 200 points higher than the next best clutch team in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies (17-8).
So, how exactly does this record indicate the Suns’ Larry O’Brien viability? Well, we can just take a look at other teams in the league through the same metric. 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 games was the ninth-best in the league last year (20-16; .556)? In 2021-22, they’re considered a disappointment. They sit at 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 25-34 record. In clutch situations, the Knicks are 22nd in the league (13-18; .419). Basically, championship contenders tend to be near the top of the league in this category. Teams can still succeed with a poor clutch record. Look no further than the Utah Jazz, who rank 24th in the NBA with a 12-17 record (.414). 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 series? Be realistic.
Aside from the Milwaukee Bucks last season and the 2007 San Antonio Spurs, each of the last 15 NBA champions has ranked in the top 10 in the league in clutch record. Now, here’s where things get a little iffy, though: In the 26 years of clutch data that the NBA has, the Suns have the best record in clutch situations — seven points higher than the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors. Those Warriors did not win the championship. The next team, the 2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks (.842 clutch record) also did not 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 up phenomenally well with Dirk Nowitzki and company. In fact, that season, three of the Mavericks’ 15 total losses came against the Warriors. They didn’t win a single game against the Warriors in the regular season. That was just an unfortunate circumstance for one of the best teams of all-time. As for the 2015-16 Warriors, that team got so caught up in chasing the wins record that they lost sight of the ultimate goal. They were tired and run down by the time they reached the Finals and it still took a monumental effort from King James to steal that series in seven games.
Obviously, the Suns are not as talented as the 2015-16 Warriors were and they don’t have a legendary player in their prime on their roster like the 2006-07 Mavericks. That points a huge finger at head coach Monty Williams. The fact that this man is able to pull out 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’re not four future Hall of Famers like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green were. Yet the Suns are better in close games than arguably the most talented team in the last decade of the NBA sans the Warriors with KD.
In the playoffs, oftentimes the winner of a series comes down to which team can gut out a hard-fought win at a pivotal juncture in the series (Game 3, Game 5, stealing a game on the road, etc.). The Suns have proven that they are the best team in the league at doing just that. Barring any injuries they should be everyone’s championship favorite.