Entering Tuesday’s contest against the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns were the worst team in the NBA when it came to closing out games. The Suns had a -16.7 net rating in the fourth quarter, which is the worst in the league per NBA.com. Phoenix’s plus/minus on the year in the final frame was an abysmal -143, worse than the Pistons, Wizards and Spurs. The 24.3 points per game in the fourth quarter were also the worst in the league. That’s not the kind of company a championship-caliber team should be keeping down the stretch of games.
And with just over eight minutes left in the final quarter of Tuesday’s game, things didn’t look much better. The Kings held a 109-87 lead and had a 99.9% chance to win the game. Then, something magical happened.
the kings were up 109-87 with 8:22 to play pic.twitter.com/TgJ2ZOgcCj— Underdog NBA (@Underdog__NBA) January 17, 2024
The Suns found their footing in a quarter that had previously done them in so many times, moving Kevin Durant to the center spot to create a more versatile lineup that could space the floor. The star set the tone with 12 points in the final 4:39, getting some help with a couple massive triples from Eric Gordon. Bradley Beal and Devin Booker let Durant take over at the end of the game, but both contributed heavily in the win. Beal finished with 13 points and five assists, while Booker had 16 points and 11 dimes.
Durant said in the postgame interview it was the best fourth quarter of the season for the Suns. That’s hard to dispute after a 32-8 run and a 35-21 advantage overall in the frame.
Phoenix now gets a few days off before a good test against the Pelicans on Friday. The Suns have a relatively light schedule coming up with the Pacers twice, Bulls, Mavericks and Magic in the next five games. In fact, one could argue the most rigorous stretch left for Phoenix is the final 10 games of the regular season. The Suns will face the Clippers, Timberwolves and Pelicans twice while also getting the Nuggets, Thunder, Cavaliers and Kings. If Phoenix wants to turn this three-game winning streak into something bigger and climb up the Western Conference standings, now is the time to do so.
The Durant-Beal-Booker lineup combination has played just 175 minutes together this season, but is great at +55. Phoenix’s two most frequent five-man lineups are +67 and +36 on the year, featuring the six key rotation players the team will rely on even more in the postseason. These are the reasons why the Suns are still considered contenders despite being the eighth seed in the West as of this writing.
Phoenix is +1300 to win the NBA title at DraftKings Sportsbook, which is sixth-best odds in the league. The Suns are only behind the Nuggets and Clippers when it comes to winning the West, and they have experience playing both squads in the postseason. The Suns were able to overcome the Clippers thanks to some injuries, and they probably believe Beal can be the difference against Denver in a playoff series.
There are still some pitfalls despite Tuesday’s comeback. Durant, Beal and Booker have all dealt with injuries, particular the former two stars. February has been a bad month for Durant in the last two years, and Beal is starting to show his age. Booker has had hamstring and foot issues stemming from last year. And the Suns are still a few bad fourth quarters away from being right back where they were prior to Tuesday. It’s important for them to not let this victory over Sacramento go to waste.