It is not something new to see a basketball team’s offense get mucked up and lose its flow in the key moments of the game.
It happens, and right now, it keeps happening for the Phoenix Suns.
After point totals in the fourth quarter of 20 in Thursday’s loss to the Orlando Magic and 21 for Friday’s win over the Toronto Raptors, it was 14 on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets. That was enough for the game to go into overtime, where the Suns were fortunate to get away with a 101-97 win.
It’s beyond just playing bad basketball, it’s a funk that’s on the team. Chris Paul, one of the smartest players to ever be in the league, has even looked out of sorts at some points after he was the best performer in the clutch last season.
With 45 seconds left in overtime and the Suns up five, Devin Booker was dribbling the ball out near half-court to set up an isolation. As he waved off a screen from Mikal Bridges, a double-team came and trapped Booker. Bridges ran to go give Booker someone to pass to, but ran from where Booker thought Bridges was for the pass and turned it over. Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham immediately pulled up for a three-pointer to make it a two-point game off that play in transition.
At eight seconds remaining with Phoenix leading by two and in possession of the ball, the Suns’ sideline out of bounds play had a bizarre ending of motion that left no one open and also no one breaking toward space to get open. Jae Crowder had to just lob the ball to Dario Saric, who had the ball batted away. The Hornets’ Terry Rozier had a great chance at the loose ball, but bobbled it, and fortunately for the Suns, Paul came away with it.
He hit the free throws to seal the game, but man, it was a journey getting there.
The Suns (31-14) scored only two points in the last 5:58 of regulation.
Paul was 0-for-4 from the field with two turnovers in the last 17 minutes while Booker shot 2-of-7 with two more turnovers. On top of that, Phoenix couldn’t convert on open 3s then and for most of the night. The Suns were a rough 8-of-40 (20.0%) from three-point range, their second-worst percentage for a game this season, and 1-of-7 in the final 11 minutes.
At least like Friday, Booker and Paul were locked in on the foul line over that stretch. The two combined to shoot 8-of-8 from there in overtime to not give the Hornets any leeway.
Phoenix battled through that inconsistent shooting and getting outrebounded in the first half by eight to still be tied at halftime after trailing by seven in the first quarter.
Williams’ team played sound defensively and hard on both ends to lead for the entire second half until the game was tied and went to overtime.
The Suns had a season-high 15 steals and 21 offensive rebounds, the latter being the most for Phoenix in a game since December of 2018.
Six of those steals and five of those offensive rebounds came from Mikal Bridges, who surely gets the game ball. His final line of 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a block and career-high six steals sounds like a unique one, because it is. It’s the eighth time in franchise history those numbers have been reached and he’s the seventh Sun to get there, the first since Shawn Marion in 2003.
New addition Torrey Craig got in on some of that too with nine points, four rebounds, an assist, two steals and a block in 21 minutes. Craig continues to impress with his steady play on both ends, rarely making mistakes while also finding a way to consistently impact the game.
With Abdel Nader (right knee soreness) sidelined for the fourth straight game, it has given Craig a chance to really prove himself. Nader’s play has been just as important at times, but more erratic. Given Craig’s playoff experience too, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him not only surpass Nader in the rotation, but earn a consistent role through the postseason as well.
Jae Crowder (0-for-9) and Cam Johnson (0-for-6) took all 15 of their combined shots from three-point range and missed all of ’em.
Deandre Ayton had seven of his 14 boards on the offensive glass along with 14 points. He’s found a groove in the past two weeks, a key development if it were to continue, as Phoenix will want to punish teams going small against them in the postseason like the opposition has lately.
Even through the issues down the stretch, Booker was still pretty great for the whole afternoon. He finished with a game-high 35 points.
It was a rare off-night for Paul. And when I say rare, I mean rare.
Paul was 5-of-16 from the field, at 31.2% shooting. In Paul’s now 309 career games in which he’s taken at least 16 shots, only 22 have seen him with a field goal percentage that low. That’s 7% of those high-volume games, per Basketball-Reference.
Even further, his one assist Sunday was the first time in his career he’s finished with one or less. Ever. Over 1,064 games. He had four turnovers too.
So strictly from scanning through the box scores, that’s one of the worst statistical games of Paul’s career, and the Suns still won it.
They’ll take that. They definitely will.
“We have a lot to learn and tonight proved that, but it’s always better to learn with a win,” Booker said.
But the saying goes that winning fixes everything, and that’s not necessarily true this time around. If the Suns keep winning like they did in the last two, it actually won’t see them get better at what’s ailing them.
Booker’s on top of that.
“If we want to go where we want to go, we’ve got to clean up some late-game situations and I think the best way to learn is to experience it,” he said. “Being in the fire and learning from it. So we have to go back, watch film, find some packages late that we (can) use.”