On March 24th, 2017, Devin Booker became only the 6th NBA player to score 70 points in a single game. Booker joined the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, David Robinson, David Thompson, and Kobe Bryant in reaching this landmark.
Booker’s 70 point effort is currently tied for 10th all-time for most points in a single game. It’s crazy to think that 5 years have already passed since that night, and with us being a few months removed from Booker being named to 1st Team All-NBA for the first time in his career, what better time to look back on this amazing performance by a budding superstar.
There are a lot of fascinating elements to not only this game but also the reaction following the game. Despite the final score saying it was only a 10 point difference, the game was truly never in doubt. At the time, the 46-win Celtics led 22-3 early and controlled the whole game against the young Suns team that moved to 22-51 after this loss. It felt to some that the Suns might have been more focused on feeding Booker than playing “winning basketball” during that night.
As I reflected on the game and watched as many clips as I could, there are a couple aspects that stood out to me that I think either went under the radar in the moment or are worth bringing up again, including this idea of the Suns and Booker not playing basketball the right way.
Devin Booker’s physical makeup and athletic ability compared to others who have reached 70 points
The physical build and overall athleticism of Booker versus the other players that have reached 70 points is something I noticed right away. David Robinson and Wilt Chamberlain were both centers that were able to overpower teams around the basket.
David Thompson, Kobe Bryant, and Elgin Baylor were all high flyers that could attack the rim vertically and naturally get more separation on their jumpshots than Booker. Those two profiles don’t match Booker’s makeup.
Devin had to truly rely on his skill to get to 70 that night. It’s ironic that this was the most points scored since Kobe’s 81 point effort. Bryant is not only someone Booker looked up to, but Booker also modeled a lot of his game after the all-time great.
Despite not having Bryant’s overall athleticism, Booker has Bryant’s ability to use his body and his footwork to create separation from defenders out of the post. Booker is also similar to Bryant in the way that they both have spots on the floor where they are comfortable just rising up and shooting no matter how tight the defense is. Booker’s strength was on full display against the Celtics.
You would think a combo guard sized player like Booker would get to 70 points by taking heat check after heat check from 3, Booker actually only made four 3 pointers that game. He did a ton of damage by getting to the free throw line.
Booker attempted 26 free throws that night and made 24 of them. Another interesting aspect of this game was during the time where the 3 point shot was growing quickly in popularity.
How much of this 70 point effort was in “garbage time”?
I’m going to answer this question with a question – does it matter? This was one of the main talking points following the game. Especially after Jared Dudley posted a picture of the team celebrating in the locker room following the game.
After the game, the picture bounced around the internet, including to the NBA’s Instagram account where Jae Crowder (Boston Celtic at the time) commented “NEVER SEEN SO MANY GUYS HAPPY AFTER AN ‘L’”.
For full transparency, Booker scored 69 of his 70 points with his team down double digits and the Celtics being in total control of the game. 28 of the 70 points came in the 4th quarter. The Suns also used timeouts and fouled some down the stretch to extend the game that was out of reach to get Booker to 70. So should we be celebrating a team chasing an individual feat in garbage time of a meaningless game? I say, why not?
For Jae Crowder and everyone else that ripped on the Suns and Devin Booker for celebrating this effort, my personal opinion on the matter is that I actually think it’s cool that a team that’s almost 30 games below .500 can rally together to have this moment. I think this is a good example of culture building. Am I defending them calling timeouts or fouling late? No, I am not. I still think this was a big moment in building culture though. This Suns team went 27-55 that season.
The NBA season is a long and grueling grind and they didn’t have much to celebrate that season. Nobody would have blamed them if that whole roster checked out after falling down 22-3 on the road against a vastly superior team. Instead, their leader and best player kept playing and the team rallied behind him. This is the culture that caught the attention of all-time great Chris Paul a few seasons later.
How many times do we see a veteran looking to contend late in his career wanting to go to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs with its current core? Not often to say the least. Paul saw something in Booker and that culture though.
I also pushback on the Suns not playing “winning basketball” in this game. Yes they went for it a bit at the end but Booker didn’t get his 70 by dominating the ball and waving off teammates. He actually played a well rounded game by contributing 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
He also scored plenty of baskets by moving away from the ball and playing team offense. Him and Jared Dudley show some great chemistry throughout, leading to Dudley racking up 10 assists that night.
Even though it took some time for Booker to develop into a solid defender, I also don’t think he was one of those young players where effort was a big problem on that end. Booker even turned some defense into offense that night as well.
To anyone looking back at this game or any game where a young player on a bad team has a big scoring night, don’t knock these guys. They are playing professional basketball at the highest possible level, let them enjoy this career defining moment.
Every team isn’t built to win 50 games from an overall talent standpoint, that doesn’t mean that the best player or two on that team isn’t a special talent and that team can’t take pride in the small victories, even if it came in a losing effort.
Young players are coming into this league with more and more skill, and a good portion of them aren’t going to win a lot of games early on. That’s more about them playing on a rebuilding team than them not being winning players.
So just sit back and enjoy the show and watch the future of the league get buckets.