Steve Nash is fourth in the league in minutes played in clutch situations, according to 82games.com.
3 Suns (Nash, Channing Frye, and Grant Hill) are in the top 25 clutch-time minutes played.
Anyway you slice it, Phoenix ranks among the league leaders in games that come down to the last five minutes or overtime, with one team leading by no more than 5 points. In the past month, the Suns played 8 games with at least 3.5 minutes contested under those circumstances, including their thrilling triple overtime loss to the Lakers and, of course, last night’s loss to the Bulls.
Down three on the last possession, Nash was unable to get his team a solid look. The Suns lost a game they had no business winning.
A game involving Phoenix that comes down to the wire is rarely competitive throughout. Too many of these games involve one of two harrowing trends – either falling behind by massive margins and needing an amazing comeback, or securing a seemingly safe advantage before allowing the opponent back into the game. And that’s their real “clutch” problem – not their performance in highly variable situations, but their ability to turn outcomes with little volatility into emotional powder kegs.
This dichotomy is illustrated perfectly by the season series with the Bulls. Back in November, a twenty-three point Phoenix lead evaporated over the course of two and a half quarters. The Bulls outplayed the Suns in the fourth quarter, tying the game and forcing overtime. A Jason Richardson three at the end of the first overtime necessitated a second extra frame – which seemed superfluous when Chicago outscored Phoenix 12-4 to secure an 8-point victory.
Tuesday night’s example is even more disheartening. The Bulls buried Phoenix – digging the grave in the second quarter when they steadily opened up a double-digit lead and shoveling dirt onto the corpse at the beginning of the third. By the time the NBA’s resident zombie checked, accompanied by Hakim Warrick, that lead had ballooned to twenty-two points.
Fortunately, if anyone knows how to unearth oneself from a premature grave, it’s a zombie. Unfortunately, THE LEAD WAS TWENTY-TWO POINTS. While the Suns made a run and ultimately made the game interesting, their inability to keep the majority of the game competitive was the real issue and cause of the loss – not their failures down the stretch. I’m hard-pressed to harangue Vince Carter for his fade-away in the lane (a horrible shot, mind you) when his play (along with a bit of nonchalance on the part of the Bulls) helped get his team into that position.
Tense finishes involving my favorite team are entertaining and fun, as long as they come from constant effort. When they’re the result of giant swings, they’re simply nerve-wracking.