PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have remarkable consistency that is the primary source of a league-leading record that improved to 61-14 on Sunday after a 114-104 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Two stats that reflect this and applied on Sunday are the Suns now at 45-0 when they lead through three quarters and 44-0 when holding opponents under 110 points.
Suns guard Devin Booker often refers to a “wear-down effect” his team has.
Philadelphia was excellent in the first half and only led by four. Phoenix was most likely going to keep its level of play steady and maybe even get better. Forward Jae Crowder said the group never panics and they communicate a lot during halftime and different pockets of the game to stay on point.
The question is always if the Suns’ opposition can maintain enough, and the 76ers could not.
They lost a few steps defensively and the offensive execution took a big hit once James Harden’s lack of aggression reared its ugly head again, a trend in his short Philadelphia tenure thus far.
Harden was 2-of-11 from the field and the Suns especially targeted him on defense in the third quarter, which brought on a point total of only 40 for the 76ers in the second half after 39 in the first quarter. Philadelphia (46-28) was able to get a few key Suns players in foul trouble for the first half but the danger in playing the free throw game is becoming reliant on the whistle, and that bit the 76ers in the butt on Sunday.
“I think we just started defending without fouling and keeping up off the glass. … We knew we had to cut down on that and second-chance points and we did that,” Booker said of the game turning.
Suns wing Mikal Bridges has given Harden fits this season. Harden, a 10-time All-Star, ends the regular season with a 12-for-45 (27.6%) shooting mark in three appearances against Phoenix.
“James is Hall of Fame, MVP, but Mikal just made it tough on him with his length. … Mikal’s defense allows for the rest of us to kind of stay home and that’s a huge weapon for us,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said.
The 76ers’ slight decline was enough of an opening for the Suns to lead by five with one quarter to go before they extended their lead to 11 with under eight minutes left. Philadelphia’s energy, affected by Harden and a hobbled Joel Embiid trying to run off an apparent ankle tweak in the third quarter, dropped off.
In a rare blip on the Suns’ record, it did for them too, resulting in an 8-0 76ers run before Phoenix quickly reset and dominated clutch minutes again by scoring on six of its next seven possessions to wrap up the game.
“It’s tough. If we play consist the way we play for 48 minutes and leave it out of anybody else’s hands, we control our own destiny,” Booker said. “We know over the course of 48 minutes that there’s going to be ups and downs but if we do what we do we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Booker had a season-high 22 points in the first quarter and finished with 35 on 13-of-22 shooting.
Chris Paul continued to look like Chris Paul in his second game back since missing a month-plus, contributing 19 points and 14 assists.
Harden ended up with 14 points and nine assists while Embiid had 37 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
Philly would have had a chance on a better shooting night, posting a 10-of-36 (27.8%) clip from 3-point range against a Suns defense that was fine with overcommitting to the 76ers’ two stars and recovering to shooters.