Utah’s Vivint Area is one of the NBA’s loudest and most hostile venues, and the joint was jumping late Wednesday after the Jazz had pulled within four points of the Phoenix Suns. The raucous Utah fans weren’t aware of it at the time, but the game’s outcome was about be decided within seconds. That’s because the NBA’s most lethal fourth-quarter closer, Chris Paul, was about to choke the life out of the game.
Sure enough, Paul scored 15 of his 21 points in the final quarter, and the Suns won 105-97 for their eighth straight victory. Ho-hum, just another night at the office for Paul, who has turned closing out games and crushing the hopes of opposing fans into an artwork this season.
The Phoenix Suns are surging yet again and riding an eight-game winning streak
At 39-8, the Phoenix Suns sit atop the Western Conference standings and own the league’s best record. They are doing so while flying embarrassingly below the national radar even though they won the West last season and were two victories away from winning the NBA championship last July.
Already the owners of an 18-game winning streak from Oct. 30-Dec. 2, the Suns are now riding an eight-game spree, and they have three straight home games dead ahead.
During this run, Phoenix has the NBA’s top offensive rating (117.7 points per 100 possessions), the fourth-best defensive rating (105.3), and the second-best net rating (12.4). The numbers are even more dominant now than they were during the 18-game winning streak, which should greatly concern others in the Western Conference hoping to get to the NBA Finals.
Superstar guard Devin Booker has averaged 30.5 points per game during the run despite struggling somewhat with his shooting accuracy. He had 43 points and a career-best 12 rebounds on Wednesday, and some in the Utah crowd chanted “M-V-P!” Not that you would know it by examining the NBA’s All-Star voting returns, where Booker laughably ranks fifth among West backcourt players.
“So many guys are getting so many more votes than him — it’s laughable,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said in his postgame news conference as reported by The Associated Press. “When you look at what he’s done, not just lately but all season long, and the wins we have, you know he should be a starter on the All-Star team. Tonight was one of those games where I think he proved that point.”
In Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Suns have two of the game’s greatest closers
The Suns have been dominant again because of their lights-out play in the fourth quarters of games. For the season, the Suns have the NBA’s best offensive rating (116.0 points per 100 possessions) and net rating (plus-8.4) in fourth quarters. They also lead the league in scoring, field-goal percentage, and assists in fourth quarters.
The mastermind of it all, of course, is Chris Paul.
The veteran point guard prefers to lay back through the game’s first three quarters and then assert himself late in the night when the game is on the line. Late in games, Paul is a master at milking the clock, surgically manipulating defenses, and getting to his favorite spots for killer mid-range jump shots.
How good is Paul in fourth quarters? He leads the team in fourth-quarter scoring at 5.7 points per game — a number lowered by Phoenix so often blowing foes out. As for his playmaking mastery, Paul leads the NBA with 120 fourth-quarter assists. To put that into perspective, the next closest player on the list is San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray.
Paul has been so good that he’s even made retread center Bismark Biyombo into a legitimate threat — something that works against Deandre Ayton in his pursuit to land a new contract.
Suns’ stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker have learned to work together to close out games
Much the way baseball teams use set-up men and closers to finish games, Chris Paul and Devin Booker have had to learn how to work together in fourth quarters. Booker dominated the first three quarters on Wednesday in Utah, but he didn’t get a shot in the fourth period until the 3:45 mark. That’s when Paul was burning the Jazz for 15 of his 21 points.
“It’s a good feeling now, but it came with a learning curve,” Booker said in the postgame news conference as reported by The Associated Press. “There was a lot of trial and error, but now we’ve been in enough situations where we know what to expect.”
Added Paul, who has averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 assists in Phoenix’s eight-game winning streak: “You only build that trust by playing together in games, close games like that,”
Like Booker’s laughable All-Star voting totals, Paul has been overlooked for the MVP award. That’s the case even though the fiery point guard is the very definition of “valuable” with how he’s almost single-handedly changed the fortunes of a previously pitiful Phoenix franchise in two years.
If Paul keeps closing out games in such an efficient manner and leads the Suns on another deep run into the summer, he might earn a label far more significant than MVP.
How about this: Chris Paul, NBA champion?
Statistics are courtesy of NBA.com.