Even the Suns’ notoriously hard-working coach let himself soak this one in.
“This is a huge win,” Monty Williams said after his Phoenix Suns beat the undefeated Philadelphia 76ers, 114-109, on Monday night. “This is great for the fans, it’s great for our city. We got two hours to enjoy it, and then tomorrow I’ll start thinking about Miami.”
The Suns outshot their opponents for the seventh straight time this season, and remain the only NBA team to rank in the top 10 of the league’s 30 teams in both offense (10th) and defense (7th).
The Suns are now 5-2 on the young season, their best start since the 48-win campaign in 2013-14. But this year’s start is even more impressive than that one in 2013 because these Suns have defeated two of the top teams in each conference, while barely losing by one point each to two other contenders. The Suns are the only team not to lose any games by two or more points this year.
“They hit a ton of shots,” Williams said. “But our guys did the same. We got contributions across the board and on the defensive side, guys taking charges and getting rebounds, it really says a lot about our team.”
The Sixers had the lead for much of the game, including a 7-point lead early in the third quarter, until a Mikal Bridges dunk put the Suns up 81-80 with 1:21 left in the third.
The Suns then took the lead for good early in the fourth on the strength of a second unit led by Bridges and Tyler Johnson. During that stretch, the second unit took the Suns from -2 to +6 on the scoreboard against the league’s No. 1 defense, a lot of that after Booker collected his fourth foul.
I asked Tyler Johnson about that run after Booker had to sit, and he gave me the greatest answer I could have asked for. I absolutely love it when players give an honest answer to a question practically begging for one.
“I’ve played in playoff games,” Johnson said of coming in when Booker had to sit with his fourth foul. “You know what I mean? This is just a regular season game. It’s just a really good atmosphere. It’s not like I come in and go ‘oh no! Booker got his fourth foul, what are we gonna doooo?’ You know what I mean? It’s time to play basketball. It’s time for everybody else to step up. It’s time to get back to what we want to get back to.”
Johnson helped the Suns take the lead for good by not only scoring a couple of baskets but also defending like a madman on the other end.
“I put him in a couple pick and rolls, and then he just made plays on his own,” coach Williams said of Tyler’s run.
Make no mistake. Tyler Johnson was throwing no shade at Booker there. He knows that Booker is an incredible talent.
“I’ve been around a lot of really really really good players, Hall of Famers,” Johnson said of Booker in the same interview before roasting my question. “As far as pure scorer, I think he’s probably the best I’ve ever seen. I didn’t get to watch D-Wade in his prime, but... yeah.”
Booker had his own compliment to give back to Johnson.
“Tyler is always locked in, man,” Booker said. “Every single day, you can see it on his face when he is in the game that he is just focused. He is focused on the goal at hand, he is focused on stopping his man.”
At the end of the game, as Booker helped the Suns hold the lead and close out the game against the Sixers, capping off a 40 points on 19 shots night, the crowd loudly chanted M-V-P over and over. Booker made 15 of 19 shots overall, 3-4 on threes and all seven free throws. He also had three assists and a pair of rebounds.
“That is the love that I get here,” Booker said of the MVP chants. “It has been unconditional since day-one, I always say it. But, it is good to feel the energy in there. The fans are getting what they want, a hard-working team coming to push the issue every night. Playing for them, playing for ourselves, playing for this whole city.”
After the Sixers went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 100-100, and again tie it at 102-102 with 3:02 remaining, the Suns went on a 7-1 run over the next 1:54 to take a 109-103 lead with 1:08 left to play. Booker scored the first five Suns points on the 7-1 run.
The Sixers would not go away though, led by Al Horford’s 32 points, Furkan Korkmaz’ three-point stroke and the Sixers’ 45 percent three-point shooting overall. They pulled within one possession a couple of times in that last two minutes, but the Suns would not fold.
“It just came down to effort and scrap at that point,” Williams said. “The guys were communicating in the huddles what they needed to do. We were so much more locked in in the second half then we were in the first half, but that two-minute stretch was just effort and scrap.”
“When you have team effort,” Booker said of the win. “A lot of people are talking to each other, holding each other accountable.”
“I think we definitely have to give them credit,” said Tobias Harris of the Sixers. “They came out and played a heckuva game. They had a lot of guys step up and make shots.”
Harris scored 24 points for the Sixers along with grabbing 10 rebounds, while Furkan Korkmaz poured in 20 points with 4-7 shooting from behind the arc. Those scorers, with Horford, kept the Sixers in the game. The Sixers were missing Joel Embiid while the Suns were missing Deandre Ayton, both due to separate league suspensions.
The Suns got contributions up and down the lineup around Booker. Ricky Rubio had a season high 21 points, including 3-5 from deep when defenses sagged off him, plus 10 assists and 7 rebounds. Kelly Oubre Jr. had 14 points, including his usual crowd-exploding dunk or two in transition at critical junctures, and a half-dozen rebounds.
The Suns overall outrebounded the mammoth Sixers (40-38), outshot them (53.2% to 47.2%), out free-threw them (27-20), out-assisted (24-20), had more points in the paint (48-32), and more fast-break points (15-8).
The Suns have 89 three-pointers through their first seven games, the most through seven games of season in the franchise’s 52-year history.
The Suns — leading the league in assist rate at nearly 70% of all shots coming off assists — have 194 assists through their first seven games, the team’s most through seven games since also having 194 through seven games in 2005-06 (the second year of SSOL).
Devin Booker reached 6,000 career points on an acrobatic layup with 2:21 left in the fourth quarter. At 23 years, 5 days old, Booker became the 8th-youngest in NBA history to 6,000 career points with only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Andrew Wiggins and Shaquille O’Neal doing so younger.
Rubio scored 12 points in the fourth quarter against the Sixers, his career high for points in a fourth quarter (prev. 11 twice, last on Oct. 20, 2017 with Utah at Minnesota).
We haven’t even talked about Aron Baynes yet!
The boomer scored 15 points, including 3-5 on threes, grabbed seven rebounds and dished — get this! — 6 assists. Where would the Suns be without Baynes stepping into this starting lineup in place of a Masked Offender?
“How can it not be fun?” Baynes said after the win. “It’s fun for everyone here involved. That is one of the good feelings we have right now is we understand that when we’re playing within the system and the ball is moving and everyone’s getting a shot, taking the best shot for the team. That is when it is fun, when we keep playing defense the way we are, it allows us to get out in transition. It is fun through sticking to the little things and doing the little things consistently and making the most of every single play, that is how we have our fun. Of course it is fun out there.”
I’m having fun. Are you having fun?
This poll is closed
Nope. Nope. Nope. This isn’t fun at all.