The Phoenix Suns did not lose a game in the month of November. Behind Chris Paul and Devin Booker, Phoenix went 17-0 and capped it off with a 104-96 win over Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
That game was a matchup of Goliath vs. Goliath in the Western Conference. The Dubs held the No. 1 spot — and the best record in the league — for most of the first quarter of the season.
Both teams are 18-3, but now the Suns hold that top spot going into a rematch on Dec. 3, just three days after Phoenix’s eight-point win in the desert.
Teams don’t reach the top of the NBA heap unless they’re good in multiple areas. But the Suns’ two best players are cold-blooded when it matters most, and right now, that’s carrying Phoenix toward a championship.
Phoenix is the hottest team in the NBA
That statement would have been true five games ago. Or 10 games ago. But the Suns just keep winning.
The defending Western Conference Champions lost their second and third games of the season. Those contests were on Oct. 23 and Oct. 27.
They haven’t lost since.
Heading into the rematch with the Warriors, that marks 29 calendar days without a defeat. The last day Phoenix lost was when the Houston Astros beat the Atlanta Braves to win the World Series.
Baseball is now in a lockout.
The Suns led the league in scoring in November (114.1 points per game). They were also first in field-goal percentage (48.8) and tied for third in 3-point percentage (37.9).
Phoenix was in the top five in assists and top 10 in turnovers. They were also fourth in points allowed off turnovers, meaning the Suns took care of the ball, and in the few instances they didn’t, they made sure it wasn’t costly.
But what will end up mattering most, in the long run, is that the team has not one but two players who have ice water in their veins.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker have been statistically near the top of the league in the clutch this year
Caveat — Booker left the Golden State game in the first half with a hamstring injury that’s been deemed “minor.” He will likely miss the two teams’ second matchup on Dec. 3 but isn’t expected out for long.
Booker is shooting 73.3% from the field and 60.0% from three in clutch situations. Paul is shooting 63.6% from the floor and 50.0% from deep in the same department.
How exactly does the NBA define “clutch”? Good question.
“Clutch” time is the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or fewer.
In other words, the Suns’ starting backcourt doesn’t flinch when the game is on the line. (CP3 also is shooting better than 94% from the free-throw line in these situations.)
As a team, Phoenix has shot 64.6% from the floor, 50.0% from three, and has a turnover differential of 2.3 to 0.5 at the end of close games.
The Suns are 14th in the league in clutch games played. Does that mean these stats come from a small sample size? Yes.
But that also means Phoenix isn’t letting teams hang with them in the fourth quarter and that when they do, they win.
The Suns are 9-1 in those 10 games.
Which leads to the most exciting part of the team’s calmness at zero hour.
If the Suns continue to perform in the clutch, they’re bound for another NBA Finals appearance
Phoenix finished with the second-best record in the West last year. They rolled through the playoffs to the NBA Finals.
It doesn’t matter now, but it’s worth noting the Suns had a 2-0 lead over the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Playoff basketball often comes down to the last few minutes of a game. That has to sound peachy right now for the team that plays at Footprint Center. (That would be the name of Phoenix’s home arena).
Maybe this group — which returns its top seven players in terms of minutes from last year — learned something from its failure against Milwaukee. But whatever the case, Paul and Booker have been at their best when it matters most.
So far that’s led to 17 consecutive W’s. And it could lead to plenty more sunny days in the desert.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.