The Phoenix Suns Have Been Atrocious Closing Games Without Devin Booker

Considering Suns’ star guard Devin Booker has played just two games since the season tipped off, it’s no surprise Phoenix has limped to a pedestrian 4-6 start. But despite that absence, given the talent and depth of Booker’s supporting cast, Suns coach Frank Vogel shouldn’t have too much of an issue mustering up some quality performances to keep this team afloat.Kevin Durant and Drew Eubanks

And if you’ve watched this Phoenix team for the first 36 minutes of their games you’d think they were on top of the Western Conference — except they’re not. For whichever reason one can draw up, this Suns unit has been flat-out dismal when the buzzer for the fourth quarter sounds. Straight up treacherous. For context, a Kevin Durant-led Suns team has been outscored in the fourth quarter 87-55 over their last three games. 

Blown defensive assignments, rookie mistakes fouling lackluster scorers, and more turnover than a high school pyramid scheme. In their most recent 111-99 loss to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder, a veteran Suns roster surrendered 17 turnovers. Yes, it’s a new team that’s not only getting Bradley Beal acclimated (off a back injury, as well) to his new squad but also how the offense operates down the stretch without a true point guard. And after considering all those moving parts, it shouldn’t take acclimation to an offense or getting into game shape to know not to dribble yourself into corners making jump-passes across the floor, creating live-ball turnovers. Really, just giving away points in today’s NBA.

For those wondering if this is just a short sample size and possible over-reaction: Yes, and no. Phoenix is a minus-61 in the fourth quarter of the season. It’s safe to assume if Booker returns from his strained calf the same player he’s always been, Durant stays on the floor alongside Beal and the rest of the shooters this team brought in this off-season, the Suns should be fine. We also could’ve said the same thing about that barnyard explosion that was the Brooklyn Nets a season ago. That Big 3 couldn’t take the floor together if their lives depended on it. 

We do like Phoenix’s chances much better though, especially since this trio of talent appears to enjoy basketball rather than treating a job that makes you millions like a side quest. 

If there’s one thing Phoenix has going for them, it’s their effort. In a day where NBA teams struggle getting players to work hard on a daily basis, Vogel’s defensive-minded hard nose style seems to be making sense to this locker room — and we can tell by checking the “effort” section of the stat book. In their loss to OKC, Phoenix corralled 17 offensive rebounds, and while failing to crack 100 points despite that effort seems hard to believe, we’d have to imagine a team deep with stars surrounded by high-effort role players is a recipe for long-term success. Who are we kidding? It’ll work.

The fact that Booker is going through pre-game routines has to be a good sign for what’s to come, so we’ll have to wait stand-by for what this Suns team will look like, healthy. Have to imagine 17 second-chance opportunities will bode well for one of, if not the best shooting guard in the NBA. Go figure one of the best fourth-quarter players in the sport will help a team that can’t win a fourth quarter.

Phoenix will test their luck, likely without Booker, at home Wednesday against the 7-2 surging Timberwolves. 

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