With 8:22 left in the fourth quarter, the Phoenix Suns were trailing the Sacramento Kings 109-87, yet after ending the last five minutes of the game on a 23-4 run, Phoenix rallied to win, 119-117.
Kevin Durant, who led the comeback after scoring 15 of his 27 points in the last quarter, made the final two game-winning free throws with 1.1 seconds left.
After the game, Durant was asked to explain how the team was able to pull it off, “I have no clue,” the 16-year vet said. “I usually know how the game is flowing, but I felt like this was a blur. Everything happened so fast. I guess we were all in a zone and locked in.”
That is to say, down the stretch, Durant not only contributed on the offensive end, but actually had multiple stops while guarding 6-foot-10, 240-pound Domantas Sabonis in the post.
Durant elaborated on the Suns’ defensive scheme versus the Kings, “They are a team that likes to play a free-flowing movement offense, so when you can disrupt that, they turn into a different team. We pressured Sabonis a little bit more. We switched so many screens and made them play 1-on-1.”
In hopes of staging a late-game comeback, Suns coach Frank Vogel went with a small-ball lineup, which means Durant, who is not known for his interior defense, guarded the paint. Nevertheless, this strategy remained effective as the Kings only made two shots in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.
In the postgame press conference, Kings head coach Mike Brown stated, “It was a tough way to lose,” and cited the Suns’ tenacious defense in the final minutes of the game, ”Give them credit.”
Brown went on to say, “We played a good 42 minutes. In the last six minutes, we took some tough shots at the rim. We couldn’t score at the rim. Instead of just continuing to move the ball and move bodies, everything was really stagnant, we turned the ball over.”
The Suns’ high-scorer was Grayson Allen, who had 29 points off of 9-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc, “We know that you can come back from being down 20,” Allen said. “It’s happened to us, a couple times we’ve given up leads, so it’s not impossible. We have the ability to put up a lot of points in a hurry.”
Heading into the last quarter, the Suns were actually only trailing 96-84, still, statistically speaking, a 12-point deficit to start the fourth in an NBA game, only gives the home team around 5% odds to come back. Being that, the Kings even grew the lead more, as they started to pull away at the start of the last period, leading by 22 points with eight minutes left in the game. With this in mind, at this point the Suns were about one bad defensive possession away from coach Vogel calling timeout and emptying the bench.
To point out, at the 8:11 minute mark, the Kings had a 99.9% win probability. However, the Suns started to chip away, and after multiple defensive stops they somehow managed to go on a 19-2 run. With attention to this resurgence, the Footprint Center was rocking, when with under a minute left in the game, Suns’ guard Eric Gordon hit consecutive three-point shots, tying the score 115-115.
Then with 29 seconds left, Sabonis, who had a 21-point triple-double, was called for a loose ball foul, and after Durant hit both free throws, the Suns took the lead for the first time since the very beginning of the first quarter. Following this, De’Aaron Fox, who had 33 points, answered with a floater in the lane to tie the game, but subsequently fouled Durant with 1 second left, which led to the Suns winning by two points after both clutch free throws were converted.
Notably, in the last 25 seasons, there has only been one other team that was able to overcome a deficit of 20+ points in the final eight minutes of an NBA game, and it just so happened to be the Kings, who on January 27, 2020, actually overcame a 17-point deficit with 2:49 left, to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After a late rally in Tuesday night’s game, the Suns extended their win streak to three games, and are currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference with a 22-18 record. Thereupon, the Suns are just one game back from the Kings (23-17), who have now lost their third straight game in a row.
To note, the Kings won the previous two matchups this season, and will get two more chances to avenge their loss, as they play the Suns on February 13 on TNT and April 12 on NBA TV.