Few NBA teams — we’re looking at you, New York Knicks — consistently find new ways to blow it as regularly as the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns had a chance to claim their biggest win of the young season Thursday, when they led by as many as 22 points over the defending Eastern Conference finalists Boston Celtics. But an immense fourth quarter from Kyrie Irving and a clutch 3-pointer by Marcus Morris led to the Suns dropping a 116-109 overtime decision.
Their fourth-quarter meltdown aside, however, the Suns still could have exited with a white-knuckle victory had they executed a different strategy in the waning moments of regulation.
Specifically, why not foul?
The Celtics trailed 100-97 with 6.1 seconds left when Jayson Tatum inbounded the ball from midcourt. Marcus Morris received the inbounds pass two steps beyond the 3-point line, with his back to the basket. He then handed off to Irving, who dribbled around a Morris screen and drew two defenders before kicking it back to Morris for the game-tying trey.
Overtime. The Celtics would go on to outscore the Suns 16-9 in the extra frame.
If you’re a Suns fan — and if so, we’re so, so sorry for you — you were probably screaming at your screen for the Suns to foul.
Foul Morris when he received the inbounds.
Foul Irving when he began dribbling.
Heck, foul Celtics coach Brad Stevens. It wouldn’t have actually changed anything, but it would have been better than nothing.
Had the Suns fouled, the Celtics would have been forced to go to the line for two free throws. Boston’s only chance at forcing overtime then would have been the low-percentage scenario of hitting the first free throw, intentionally missing the second in a way that enabled one of its players to get the offensive rebound, and score again before the clock expired.
The oft-used strategy of fouling in this situation can be annoying to casual fans, but there’s a reason teams employ it: Because it works.
According to Suns coach Igor Kokoskov, that’s precisely what he instructed his team to do.
The players said they were told otherwise, per AZCentral.com.
“We were supposed to switch everything,” Suns guard Devin Booker told reporters. “Just a miscommunication.”
Check out the sequence below to see Phoenix’s many opportunities to foul. (The video should automatically play at the right point, but if it doesn’t, scroll to roughly the 1:45 mark.)
Now, this probably won’t shock anyone to say, but the Suns are not very good. They’re 2-9 for a reason and are coming off three consecutive seasons with less than 25 wins each. In the big scheme of things, losing a close game to a team they were supposed to lose to isn’t front-page news.
But games like this help determine how a young team defines itself. When basically everything about the organization from the front office on up has historically been a disaster, the team can’t afford to make mistakes like this on the court if they’re going to be halfway decent. And with their core, headlined by rookie Deandre Ayton, the Suns have the talent to be better than halfway decent — provided they learn from and smooth out from brain cramps like this one.