The Suns have been one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises this season, entering Monday night 4-2 on the year, with a win over the Clippers at home. The Sixers came into Phoenix as the league’s lone undefeated team left at 5-0, and even without Joel Embiid, were a slight one-point favorite on the road.
The meeting between the two would be a great litmus test for both, as the Suns got to measure themselves again versus one of the league’s top teams, while Philly got to see how they’d fare without their star center. The result was a fantastic game as both teams played extremely well, but it was Devin Booker’s 40-point performance that edged out Al Horford’s 32-point effort in a 114-109 win.
Booker’s ability to score has never been in question, but what’s made this season different (in a very small sample) is his efficiency. It was the thing Monty Williams focused on with him in camp, wanting him to still be their star, No. 1 option, but to find a way to eliminate some of the bad, forced shots. On Monday, he did just that in a virtuoso performance, hitting 15-of-19 shots from the field, including 3-of-4 from three-point range, in his 32 minutes of play — including this filthy behind the back stepback against Ben Simmons in the fourth quarter.
#1 on the court and in our hearts 💜 pic.twitter.com/6zSU2ysNi0
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) November 5, 2019
The most impressive part of the Suns hot start to the season has been their defense. Long a bottom-feeder in the league when it comes to defensive efficiency, Phoenix has been massively improved on that end. With Aron Baynes, Jevon Carter, and Ricky Rubio on the roster now, along with more minutes for Mikal Bridges, they’re much more active on that end, and it’s helping them create more fastbreak opportunities.
On offense, they’re one of the league leaders in assists, leaning less on Booker to create in isolation and moving the ball much better — Booker included. While he still has his moments where they ask him to create for himself, he’s appeared more trusting of teammates, and as such more willing and eager to try and find them when the help arrives.
On the other side, Horford did all he could to fill the massive hole left behind by Embiid’s absence. Horford was 13-of-20 from the field, including a 5-of-8 night from three,
Al Horford is a Sixer. pic.twitter.com/k4RQwpbdqk
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 5, 2019
Tobias Harris had 24 and Furkan Korkmaz kicked in 20 points of his own, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Suns — Ben Simmons had a ridiculous seven steals, but added just six points on the night. Ricky Rubio had 21 points and 10 assists alongside Booker, as that backcourt tandem continues to work well together. Baynes hit a trio of three-pointers and had a key block late, as the veteran additions for Phoenix all seem to be finding their new home quite comfortable.
How sustainable all of this is for the Suns is still to be determined, but what’s clear is that their ceiling has been pushed higher and, it appears, so has their floor. That’s great news in Phoenix as Monty Williams’ tenure is off to a great start.