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Suns’ clutch struggles come to a head against Grizzlies

Phoenix again found itself competitive late in a game. Tied with the Memphis Grizzlies on the road, the Suns inbounded to Brandon Knight, but he lost the dribble out of bounds with 0.8 seconds left.

And as you might expect by the way things have gone this season, that was enough time for the Grizzlies to draw up a play that saw Jeff Green curl around a screen and dunk an alley-oop pass through the hoop, leaving Phoenix with a 95-93 loss.

The trend, at this point, is beyond bad luck.

Examine all the plays and it’s hard to find a trend.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek told media members after the Memphis loss that players were to switch screens on the final play. Instead, the Suns attempted to stay with their players, which opened Green up for the dunk.

Before that, there was Knight’s mishandled dribble. Several times in the fourth quarter, Memphis sniper Courtney Lee got loose off the ball — twice when Eric Bledsoe lost sight of him trying to help too much and once when Jon Leuer switched off chasing Lee in a transition situation, not communicating loud or soon enough for a teammate to pick Lee up. On that play, Lee drilled a wide open corner three with 2:18 left in the game, giving the Grizzlies a five-point lead.

All of the Suns’ last four losses by a total of 13 points had similar breakdowns in the clutch.

Over the course of the entire season, the numbers don’t lie. Be it mental lapses, poor communication, bad coaching decisions, luck or otherwise, this is what the Suns’ late, close games have looked like prior to Sunday night’s loss.

• Ranking dead last in the NBA, Hornacek’s team allows opponents to shoot 55 percent and an effective field goal percentage (this accounts for threes being worth more points) of 60 percent in games with a 5-point or less differential in the final five minutes.

• Under those same conditions, Phoenix is third-worst in the league and leading only the Sixers and Lakers (the two worst NBA teams) with a 3-9 record.

• Phoenix itself has shot 35 percent in clutch situations.

• The Suns’ plus-minus differential in the final five minutes of games where they lead or trail by five points is -3.3, second-worst in the NBA.

• They are seventh-worst by scoring just 93.2 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations. On defense in the clutch, the Suns allow 123.8 points per 100 possessions, fifth-worst in the league.

•  Put those two things together and Phoenix’s net rating in the clutch ranks third-worst, after Philadelphia, Sacramento, and just ahead of the Lakers.

All of this is most baffling because Hornacek’s team ranked 11th in offensive rating this season (102.7 points per 100 possessions) and 23rd on defense (103.8 points per 100 possessions) heading into the Grizzlies game. On this road trip alone, Phoenix has led its opponents for a significant majority of the time.

There’s considerable drop-off on both sides of the ball in the clutch, and the Suns won’t be inching back into the playoff conversation or winning many games without determining and fixing those issues.

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