When Suns guard Devin Booker entered his team’s locker room at TD Garden after pouring in a franchise-record 70 points Friday, a bag of ice was dumped on his head in celebration. Then head coach Earl Watson handed him a game ball to commemorate the historic performance.
In the Celtics’ locker room across the hall, the mood was subdued. Players dressed at their stalls quietly. During interviews, they spoke about finding a way to regain some consistency.
Given these diverging moods, it was not immediately obvious that the Celtics had grabbed a 130-120 win, their 13th in their last 14 home games.
They were partly dissatisfied after surrendering a large chunk of their 26-point lead with uninspired play, partly frustrated that a player had just scored more points than any Celtics opponent had ever scored, and partly upset about the manner in which Phoenix added to Booker’s total in the final minute.
In the last 45 seconds, the Celtics held a 12-point lead. The Suns fouled twice so Booker would get a chance to score again quickly, and they also called a pair of timeouts so they could advance the ball without costing Booker valuable time.
“It was weird what they were doing,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “I’ve never seen nothing like that, chasing those numbers. But it is what it is.”
Booker said he understood the Celtics’ frustrations, but he also pointed out that his team has just 22 wins this year. Sometimes when there is a moment to feel good about, you do whatever you can to make it last.
“The way our season’s gone right now,” he said, “we’re kind of looking for something to celebrate.”
Watson was not so self-deprecating when discussing the Suns’ quest to add to Booker’s scoring total.
“It’s about letting our kids be great,” he said. “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”
Booker crafted just the 11th 70-point game in NBA history. He also set a Suns single-game scoring record and tallied the highest scoring total in the league this season, obliterating Klay Thompson’s 60-point night. Booker was 21 for 40 from the field and 24 for 26 from the foul line. He scored 51 of his 70 points in the second half.
Booker said that once he heard the Celtics’ lockdown defender, Avery Bradley, would miss the game because he was hospitalized with a stomach bug, he decided he would be even more aggressive than usual.
By the end of the game, the TD Garden fans were standing and cheering for Booker in appreciation of his seismic effort, even as the Celtics’ 26-point lead had been whittled to 11.
“That meant a lot,” Booker said, “especially here in Boston, because I know how rowdy they can be on the opponent sometimes. I respect that, because that’s how it should be.”
Although some of the Celtics were frustrated by Phoenix’s tactics that added to Booker’s total, Booker sounded like a player who would have been happy to flip the script for a better result.
During the game, he said, he heard Celtics coach Brad Stevens yell to his team that Booker had 47 points. Booker said he turned to Stevens and said he would be happy with just 10 if it meant his team could be in the lead.
Booker said that Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown congratulated him after the game. Booker said, “I told him, ‘You’re here in Boston, you’re winning, so you should be more happy than me.’ ”
Booker hit the 50-point mark when he made a basket as he was fouled with 6:40 left, and did not stop there.
With 1:48 left, he converted his own missed shot to give him 61, pulling the Suns within 121-110.
The Suns did all they could to extend the game and give Booker extra opportunities. They committed fouls quickly and then found Booker at the other end even more quickly. Booker was fouled as he attempted a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left, and he hit all three foul shots to give him 68 points. He reached 70 on a pair of free throws as the TD Garden fans stood and cheered.
“When you’re in the gym alone, you’re taking shots, you’re making consecutively, that’s what it started feeling like for me,” Booker said. “I felt comfortable.”
Despite all of Booker’s points and all of Boston’s frustrations, the night ended with another Celtics win. Boston remained just one game behind the first-place Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings. Thomas led Boston with 34 points and Al Horford had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Afterward, Stevens made it clear that the Celtics’ periods of complacency when they have a lead are an alarming trend.
“All it does is it makes our ceiling a lot lower,” he said. “That’s the message: You’ve got to play the right way all 48 minutes.”
The night started off almost perfectly for the Celtics. Horford had two dunks in the first 71 seconds and the baskets continued to pour in after that.
The Suns, meanwhile, were not so fortunate. Over the first seven minutes, Phoenix missed all 13 of its shots, 3 of its 6 free throws, and committed three turnovers. By the time Booker finally banked in a runner with 4:44 left, Phoenix trailed, 22-5.
Gerald Green made all four of his 3-pointers in the second quarter and the Celtics were 11 of 25 as a team. They led by as many as 26 points before taking a 66-43 advantage to the break.
The lead mostly remained large in the third quarter, although Boston was unable to finish off the Suns. It was partly because Phoenix got to the free throw line 21 times in the period, and mostly because Booker erupted for 23 points.
With 9:03 left in the fourth quarter, Booker converted a layup as he was fouled, giving him 45 points and pulling the Suns within 101-90. And he still had 25 more points on the way.
“We’re worried about the playoffs; they’re worried about the lottery,” Thomas said. “But you’ve got to tip your hat off to Devin Booker.”
|Michael Jordan||Bulls||1/16/93||64||Magic||128-124 (OT)|
|Michael Jordan||Bulls||4/20/86||63||Celtics||135-131 (2 OT)|