After their first trip to the NBA Finals in nearly 30 years, the Phoenix Suns have come back sharper than ever this season. And thanks to a 109-101 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, they’ve now won five games in a row and improved to a league-best 35-9 on the season.
Thursday night’s contest, the last on a lengthy five-game road trip, could have been a letdown, especially after the Suns got down by double digits in the second half. But in typical Suns fashion, they kept fighting and put together yet another dominant fourth quarter to secure the win.
This was the 18th “clutch” game of the season for the Suns (within five points with less than five minutes to play) and they’re now 15-3 in such games. They shoot a league-best 59.2 percent in the clutch and have an astounding plus-42.7 net rating in clutch minutes. Simply put, they destroy teams when the game is on the line. This game was further proof, as they closed on a 22-6 run that showcased everything that makes this team special.
Here are three key reasons why Phoenix came away with the win over Dallas on Thursday night.
Game 1. Defense
The Suns boast the second-best defensive rating in the league (104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), and they locked in on that end of the floor in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks. For the quarter, they allowed just 19 points, and over the final 7:01 — when they made their closing run — they held the Mavericks to 3-for-10 from the field and forced four turnovers.
“It’s the experience,” Devin Booker said. “I think our playoff run last year helped our chemistry moving forward. We’re never fazed in those situations, we hang our hats on the defensive end and try to just make it tough on other teams. It usually works out.”
The turnovers not only prevented the Mavericks from scoring but got the Suns’ offense going as well, as they turned all four of the takeaways down the stretch into baskets. It wasn’t just the turnovers, either. Just watch how Booker and Bismack Biyombo navigate these screens and force Luka Doncic into a tough floater.
Game 2. Everyone gets involved
With Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, there’s no shortage of star power in Phoenix. But the egalitarian nature of the team is a big part of their success. Everyone gets involved with the offense, which is why 61.8 percent of the Suns’ baskets are assisted (eighth in the league) and they have eight different players averaging at least 10 points per game.
It was no different late in the fourth against the Mavericks. The Suns shot 7-for-13 from the field during their 22-6 run to end the game; five of those baskets were assisted, five different players scored and three different players had an assist. It’s extremely hard to guard an offense that diverse.
Case in point, here’s Mikal Bridges driving out of the corner and creating a dunk for Bismack Biyombo. How’s that for crunch-time offense.
Game 3. CP3 leads the way
Defense and ball movement are key for the Suns, as is the confidence they have in late-game situations. And all of that stems from their leader, Chris Paul. Few players have the ability to singlehandedly change a team’s culture and direction, but Paul is one of them. His effect has been obvious ever since he arrived in 2020.
Thursday night’s win was another example. He finished with 20 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two steals, and made some big-time plays down the stretch. In the process, he surpassed Tim Hardaway for the most games with 20 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers since the league started tracking the latter in 1977.
With just under four minutes to play, Paul threw a perfect pocket pass to Bismack Biyombo for a huge go-ahead basket. And then, with less than 30 seconds left, he buried a dagger 3-pointer after the Mavericks double-teamed Booker.
“[The Mavericks], like I said, have been ripping through the league here of late,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “To end the trip this way, it’s a great trip for our team. I told our guys, ‘that builds a lot of confidence.’ When you win four games on the road, human nature says ‘ah, we had a good trip.’ We wanted to have a great trip, and the only way we could have a great trip was to win tonight.”