It was only three years ago that Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker dropped a mind-melting 70 points over the Boston Celtics. A trip back to memory lane will show just how different and controversial this performance was from other high-scoring totals.
The Suns phenom was the sixth NBA player to ever reach that mark and the youngest on the list, doing so at the ripe age of 20. Booker was also the first player to reach that mark since Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
While Booker became an All-Star this season, he was only a first-year starter during his second season in 2017 after earning the vote of confidence from then-coach Earl Watson. His high-octane scoring punch wasn’t a revelation by any means, but he was yet to become the bona fide scorer that he’s known to be.
The controversy surrounding this game was simply predicated on the score, as Booker already had 50 points with the Suns down by 14 in the middle of the fourth. Watson, fully aware of his star’s incandescent streak, refused to take him out. The Suns were down by 18 with 2:30 left in the game, yet Booker remained in the game — even after substitutes like Alan Williams and Jared Dudley had entered.
The Celtics doubled and triple-teamed him, knowing he would pull the trigger with any chance he got to take a clean look at the basket. Watson did his fair bit to infuriate Celtics players, calling timeouts and drawing plays to let Booker reach that mark — something many would see as asking for the wrath of the basketball gods.
Following the game, Booker was showered with love and praise from his coach and teammates, and even the notoriously-rowdy TD Garden was giving the 20-year-old love with the game already decided.
The Suns honored Booker with a Wilt Chamberlain-like rendition of his highest-scoring game, writing out 70 in a blank piece of paper.
Celtics players; including Jae Crowder, weren’t so happy about his scoring feat despite the win.
Crowder wasn’t Booker’s primary defender throughout the game, but he was the one trying to stop him down the stretch and taking part in double- and triple-teams. Surely not happy about it.
Watson, however, was burnt even more for choosing to leave Booker in the game. He was unapologetic about it, saying that if the Celtics didn’t want to get scored on that way, they should have stopped Booker from cooking them.
“It’s about letting our kids be great,” Watson told ESPN’s Chris Forsberg following the loss. “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”
Watson wouldn’t last much longer as the coach of the Suns, getting the axe at the end of the season. Once fired, Booker was one of the first to defend him, noting he should have been given more time.
Booker also noted he drew some inspiration from Kobe Bryant:
“I’ve seen an interview with Kobe on what separated him from a lot of other people,” a young Booker said then, according to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “He said everyone thought 30 points is a lot, he said he never set himself with a limit and you know that always sticks in my head.”
“He said he’d score 100 if he could. He never had a limit. I don’t put a limit on anything. I wanna be the best in life. In all parts of life, not just basketball, so I never set my limits on like 40 points. I’ve had 39 points a couple times. I want 40 points, I want 50 points, the most I can get. I want no limit on my game.”
Besides Booker and Bryant, only four other players have netted 70 points in an NBA game: Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson, David Thompson, and Elgin Baylor.
All in all, this was a moment that will be forever etched in Suns franchise history and put Booker among NBA scorers’ royalty from an early point in his career.