For now, Suns are the most clutch team on record: What does it mean?
The Phoenix Suns have won clutch games.
It has helped them reach a 47-10 record with one game Wednesday night before resetting during the NBA All-Star break.
It has been about Devin Booker and Chris Paul going to work in the midrange. As it showed Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix’s defense has also played an integral part in winning during crunch time.
Historically, the Suns are one of the best clutch teams on record that by NBA.com’s database goes back to the 1996-97 season (apologies to the 72-win Chicago Bulls team of 1995-96 for not making the cutoff). The site defines clutch time as moments when the score is within five points in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime.
Phoenix’s 23-3 record in clutch time — with the season not finished — ranks No. 1 by percentage in the 26 years of data. The Suns’ net rating of 46.2 is even more isolated atop the best marks on record. Both appear to portend to good things ahead.
To review: The Suns are +93 in 80 clutch minutes this year. Part of their overall success is they’ve avoided clutch minutes altogether, with those 80 minutes being the seventh fewest in the NBA so far.
But in games where any of those 80 minutes have popped up, they’re 23-3 (.884).
That record is probably the most important factor. And it’s not just because record is easy to digest (NBA.com’s John Schuhmann poked a hole in the importance of clutch plus-minus here). Record says a lot about how good a team is anyway. Duh.
In 17 of 25 years of full clutch data, both teams that made the NBA Finals ranked in the top-10 record-wise playing in clutch games during the regular season. In three of those years, the two Finals teams were top-two in clutch (1999-2000, 2000-01, 2012-13).
So it’s a pretty nice indicator of success, though it should be noted here that the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the Suns in the Finals last year, were 20th in clutch win percentage (13-15) last season.
Here’s a quick glance at the how top teams by clutch record and net rating (Schuhmann says net ratings are relatively accurate) finished over the past 26 seasons:
Best clutch teams by record
1. 2021-22 Suns: 23-3 record in clutch
2. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors: 30-4
(.882) — Won 73 games to set an NBA regular season record before falling in seven games to the Cavs in the NBA Finals
3. 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks: 32-6
(.842) — Those Mavericks finished ahead of the Suns at the top of the West but fell in six games to the “We believe” Warriors in a first-round defeat. It was the first time a No. 8 seed beat a No. 1 seed under the current seven-game first-round playoff format.
4. 2012-13 Miami Heat: 32-8
(.800) — Won NBA Finals in seven games over San Antonio Spurs
5. 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers: 28-8
(.778) — Won NBA Finals in six games over Indiana Pacers
Best clutch teams by net rating
1. 2021-22 Suns (23-3 record in clutch)
46.2 net rating
2. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers (23-9)
34.2 net rating — Fell in the conference finals against the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic, who themselves lost to the Lakers in the Finals.
3. 2015-16 Warriors (30-4)
34.1 net rating — Won 73 games to set an NBA regular season record before falling in seven games to the Cavs in the NBA Finals
4. 2012-13 Heat (32-8)
28.9 net rating — Won NBA Finals in seven games over Spurs
5. 2017-18 Houston Rockets (25-10)
27.2 net rating — Chris Paul and James Harden fell in a seven-game Western Conference Finals series against the Warriors before Golden State cruised to an NBA Finals sweep of the Cavaliers.