Two nights ago, the Phoenix Suns did something they have failed to do all season long – close out a game and win in the fourth quarter in a thrilling comeback victory over the Sacramento Kings.
The Suns, who already lost nine games this season in fourth quarters, are dead last in fourth-quarter scoring at just 24.6 points per game. They are also getting outscored by 3.2 points – worst in the league.
Phoenix tends to shrink when they are pressured in tense moments despite having talented, all-world scorers in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. This shouldn't be happening to an aspiring championship team – it is downright uncharacteristic and unacceptable.
Tuesday night’s game against the Kings looked like it was heading toward another inexcusable loss in the fourth, as the Kings led by 18 points, 112-94, with 5:56 to go.
The Suns have been longing to fix their fourth-quarter woes, but to no avail, as a combination of injuries, bad rotations and lackluster effort on defense have held back the team.
So, how did the Suns come back and get the win? By going on a 32-8 run to end the game.
With the Suns down 109-89 in an important game against their division rivals, Durant blocked a Malik Monk floater off a pick-and-roll, passed it out and found Chimezie Metu leaking out for an easy transition layup. The next possession, Josh Okogie made an extraordinary play that fueled the Suns’ furious comeback. On an island vs. Monk, Okogie stayed with him after a crossover and hustled back to block a floater, and it led to a wide-open transition trey by Grayson Allen that cut the lead to 17.
From that point on, players started doubling down on defense – chasing blocks instead of standing around and getting beat on defense. Even Booker and Beal, who aren't known for their defense, were fighting over screens and running back in transition with a concerted effort.
Over the next five minutes, the Suns scored 25 points to the Kings' 4 with the following series of buckets:
Beal driving layup.
Durant makes 2 free throws.
Durant makes 2 free throws.
By the end of the fourth quarter, the Suns outscored the Kings 35-21. Phoenix had finally exorcised their fourth-quarter demons.
The Big Three of Durant, Booker and Beal are finding their groove and offensively, their potential is off the charts. But their effort on defense is what will allow them to contend for a championship.
The Suns followed up that win over Sacramento with another impressive effort, blowing out the New Orleans Pelicans (who have surged to fifth place in the Western Conference).
Booker had a spectacular performance, dropping 52 points to pull the Suns closer in the standings. Phoenix currently holds the No. 8 seed in the West with a 23-18 record, but are now right behind Sacramento (23-18, seventh), Dallas (24-18, sixth) and New Orleans (25-18, fifth), as all four teams are now tied in the loss column.
Over the next few games, the Suns will go up against the Mavericks before going on a road trip out East. This stretch of games could be crucial down the road considering how close the standings are as of now.
Their best basketball is still ahead of them, and perhaps this will go down as the turning point of their season.