No section of the sports calendar is more suited to statistical weirdness than the end of the NBA season. This time of year, contending teams are rounding into form, and lottery-bound clubs are trying to ensure a high draft pick under the guise of developing young talent. The Lakers send home their veterans; the Suns field the youngest starting lineup in league history. The normal discrepancies in talent get exaggerated, which is how, earlier this week, something like Russell Westbrook having the first perfect-shooting triple-double in history happens.
Heading into it, Friday night's Phoenix-Boston matchup looked like standard late-season fare, the Celtics riding a five-wins-in-six-games streak and the Suns keeping an eye on the NCAA tournament for next year's potential additions. However, 20-year-old Phoenix shooting guard Devin Booker decided to turn the evening into the spectacular. The Celtics won, 130-120, but exactly nobody outside the Boston locker room gives a damn about that—because Booker dropped a cool 70 on them in the process.
The obligatory historical information: the outburst was the highest-scoring game since Kobe Bryant's 81-pointer 11 years ago. Booker joins Kobe, David Robinson, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in league history to score at least 70.
What distinguished Booker's night, though, was its out-of-nowhere aspect. Prior to Friday's game, Booker—a smooth, promising young talent stuck on a lousy team—had attained a level of notoriety roughly equal to that of, say, Marcus Smart, the defense-first likely-lifetime-role-player Boston tasked with checking him. After the tallying stopped, however, it was Booker who became the talk of the NBA.
Here's how it went down:
While things surely get exciting near the end—the Phoenix announcers trying for higher decibel levels with each successive bucket—the really good stuff is in the middle, when Booker is just building up a good but not yet historic game.
His skill set—a soft jumper, a probing handle, an ability to see a half-dozen pick-and-roll possibilities where others might see only two—manifests in a style where he seems like he's just gliding through it all. He is one of those players who seems never to sprint, really, only to move at a precise jog, every step a tactic.
In the second quarter, Booker brought the ball up court, crossed over, nudged Gerald Green with his shoulder, and feathered a shot off the glass. In the fourth, he stepped into a Boston passing lane and took off the other way, ending with a clever-footed floater plus a foul. With all the plays in between, he was poised the same way: canny, predictive, patient.
The end of the game brought some blatant point-chasing, with Phoenix coach Earl Watson instructing his players to foul so Booker could use more possessions, but the ends justified the methods. Boston fans cheered Booker's rising total; NBA Twitter found its topic for the night.
The 70-spot may have had an empty-calorie component to it, but that's in keeping with the built-in oddity of NBA springtime. If the big number gets people to pay attention to the player who got it, all the better.