Phoenix Suns’ guard Devin Booker smiled sheepishly at the camera, holding a white piece of paper that had the numbers “7” and “0” scribbled on it. He was in Boston and he had just broken several NBA scoring records previously set by legends whose names are bigger than his. This is what making history looks like.
Photo from Hoops Junction
Booker filed his historic performance during a meaningless away game for the Suns, towards the end of the 2016-2017 season. Most eyes were already on the playoffs, but Booker took the opportunity to take a shot at history. In a season full of mind-boggling statistics, Booker’s 70-point game was timely and snug-fitting.
The game was played in late-March, and the Suns were playing for the lottery instead of a playoff spot in the merciless Western Conference. It was the fourth of a six-game road trip; the Suns were coming off a six-game losing skid. Life wasn’t good. Life was a tad bit better for young Booker, who dropped a 28-point performance just the night before in Brooklyn.
His first basket on this historic night was nothing fancy: a textbook right-handed floater that went in off the glass over the outstretched arms of Celtic rookie Jaylen Brown. The Celtics have built a 22-3 lead prior to Booker’s first field goal, which was a strong indication that it would be one of those nights. Yet midway in the third quarter, it slowly shaped up to be one of those nights; the crazy nights; the ones when Basketball Twitter band together in its all-caps glory and simultaneously erupt in exclamation point ecstasy. Entering the fourth quarter, the Suns were down already 17 points and the Celtics were already planning postgame Netflix choices. But Booker’s tally sheet showed 42 points; the night was just about to get interesting.
A new record was set last season for the most number of players to score 50 points or more in one game. Season MVP Russell Westbrook did it five times while James Harden and Isaiah Thomas chipped in two 50-point games. Five more players, namely John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, and Damian Lillard, joined the 50-point party. Klay Thompson set a season-high with his 60-point performance in December. Booker outscored them all.
Photo from NESN.com (via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images)
Booker got to 70 taking 40 shots and making 21 of them. He also attempted 26 free throws, missing only twice. While Thompson needed 8 three-pointers to hit 60, Booker only needed 4. Most of his baskets came in various forms of off-the-dribble midrange jumpers, tough fadeaways, and reckless drives to the basket. He would score 35 points in the game’s last 15 minutes.
“I was ultra-aggressive. My teammates started finding me, they started setting really good screens for me, and the rest is history,” Booker said after the game.
Phoenix lost by 10 points to Boston, adding another L to their already dismal win-loss record. But for purposes of Basketball Being Awesome, let’s forget that, and remember the elite 70-point group that Booker is now part of: Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson, Elgin Baylor, David Thompson, and Kobe Bryant. Remember that he is the youngest in that group. Let’s celebrate the fact that Devin Booker is only 20 years old, with a lifetime of basketball ahead of him.
Let’s celebrate the “7” and “0” scribbled on a piece of white paper. Forget the backlash after the game. Forget Celtics forward Jae Crowder’s postgame jab: “Never seen so many guys happy after an L.” Remember Booker’s all-time great clapback: “You can’t guard me.” Celebrate the shot at history. Because when you’re bloody from the blows, a hopeless underdog with no chance of winning, then gunning for 70 points is the least you can do.