The Step Back: One for the record Books

Take a look at the NBA single game leaders for points list and you’ll see one name that stands out amongst the rest: Devin Booker.

Thanks to his 70-point outing against the Boston Celtics on this day in 2017, he’s the only active player to have cracked the top thirty. And, along with Kobe Bryant (who scored 81 points in 2006) and David Robinson (who got 71 in 1994), he’s also the only player from the modern era to appear in the top 10. Michael Jordan came close, thanks to a 69-point game in 1990. But in addition to Bryant and Robinson, that portion of the list belongs to Wilt Chamberlain (who occupies six spots), David Thompson and Elgin Baylor, all of whom are legends of the game.

So just how did Booker, who was 20 years and 145 days old at the time – making him the youngest player to ever record a 70-point game, achieve such a remarkable feat?

Speaking to ESPN after the game, Booker said: “This doesn’t happen very often. Especially against a really good defensive team like the Boston Celtics. I knew I was going to have to come in, lock in mentally tonight – playing at Boston isn’t easy all the time. They made it tough for me in the first half, and I tried to get it going. I was ultra-aggressive. My teammates started finding me, they started setting really good screens for me, and the rest is history.”

His teammates were definitely a factor, as with their help Booker took 16 of Phoenix’s 27 shots in the final period of the game. Suns coach Earl Watson played his part too, calling two timeouts in the final 44 seconds with his team down by double digits. The Suns also committed two fouls in the same stretch, generating extra shots for Booker, who picked up an additional five points as a result.

While the crowd at the TD Garden enjoyed the spectacle (the Celtics had a 23-point lead and went on to win the game 120-130, so why not?), Boston’s players and coaching staff weren’t quite as enthusiastic. They made their disapproval clear from the bench as their opponents did everything in their power to help Booker make history. Then, after the game, when Jared Dudley posted a picture of Booker celebrating with his teammates on Twitter, a comment posted from Jae Crowder’s account (that was later deleted) said, “Never seen so many guys happy after an ‘L’.”

Crowder may have had a point, but the milestone came during a pretty torrid stretch for the Suns, who no doubt needed something to celebrate. And while Booker had just 42 points heading into the fourth quarter, it’s important to remember that, as we found out last time, even the greatest individual scoring performance of all time involved a little stat padding.

Regardless, Booker finished the game 21-of-40 from the field, including 4-of-11 3-pointers, and 24-of-26 from the free throw line. He also added eight rebounds and six assists in 45 minutes on the court. It was just the fifth time in NBA history that a player had scored 70 points or more in a losing effort. Additionally, he became just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70-plus points in a game, as well as the youngest to record a 60-point game and the third-youngest to record a 50-point game (along with Brandon Jennings and LeBron James). His 51 second half points were the most since Bryant scored 55 in the second half against Toronto in 2006 and the 20 free throws he made in the second half of the game tied the NBA record for most free throws made in a half.

It was the high point of a season that saw the Phoenix Suns record a 24–58 record, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the seventh straight season.