Devin Booker’s 70-point game last night was special, insofar as it was rare. Booker is now one of just six players in NBA history to hit the 70-point mark, joining one-name legends like Wilt and Kobe, and any club that exclusive is inarguably something pretty cool. But the fact that it was rare doesn’t necessarily mean that it was especially incredible basketball.
Of Booker’s total points in last night’s loss, 51 came in the second half. Of those, 18 came in the game’s final four minutes—not as part of any possible furious effort to give the Suns a chance at winning, but as part of a calculated attempt to run up Booker’s scoring total. The end of the game was full of maneuvers to make sure the 20-year-old guard had the ball in his hands as often as possible, including two timeouts and an intentional foul in the last two minutes of the game alone. The Suns had been trailing by double digits for the entirety of the second half; there was no motivation here other than the chance to run up Booker’s total.
Several Celtics, understandably, complained about the Suns pulling this sort of gimmickry. The Suns were upfront about it after the game:
There’s nothing wrong with this, and on some level, there’s nothing unusual about it. At least some of this maneuvering has been present in several of history’s handful of 70-point games—the fourth quarter of Wilt’s 100-point game had its fair share, albeit in a position with the team dominating rather than being crushed, and David Robinson’s 71-point effort deliberately came on the last day of the season in an effort to win him a scoring title.
The presence of this strategy certainly doesn’t invalidate Booker’s accomplishment, then, but it does serve as a caveat. It doesn’t discredit his 70 points; it doesn’t mean that they’re not a neat statistical achievement in their own right. It does, however, mean that they were more the result of contrived maneuvering than the effort on its own might suggest.