The Phoenix Suns’ remarkable consistency is the primary reason for their league-leading record, which improved to 61-14 on Sunday with a 114-104 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Suns are now 45-0 when leading after three quarters and 44-0 when holding opponents to less than 110 points, both of which they used on Sunday.
Suns guard Devin Booker frequently mentions his team’s wear-down effect.
Philadelphia played well in the first half but only led by four points. Phoenix’s level of play was likely to remain consistent, if not improve. Forward Jae Crowder stated that the team never panics and that they communicate frequently during halftime and throughout the game to stay on track.
The question is always whether the Suns’ opponents can keep up, and the 76ers couldn’t.
They lost a few defensive steps, and the offensive execution suffered as James Harden’s lack of aggression reared its ugly head once more, a trend in his brief tenure in Philadelphia.
Harden shot 2-of-11 from the field, and the Suns particularly targeted him on defense in the third quarter, resulting in the 76ers scoring only 40 points in the second half after 39 in the first. Philadelphia (46-28) was able to get a few key Suns players in foul trouble in the first half, but the danger of playing the free throw game is becoming reliant on the whistle, which bit the 76ers on Sunday.
Booker described the game’s turning point as “just starting to defend without fouling and keeping up off the glass.” They knew they needed to cut back on that and second-chance points, so they did.
This season, Suns wing Mikal Bridges has given Harden fits. Harden, a 10-time All-Star, finishes the regular season with a 12-for-45 (27.6 percent) shooting percentage in three games against the Suns.
The 76ers’ slight decline provided enough of an opening for the Suns to lead by five with one quarter remaining before extending their lead to 11 with less than eight minutes remaining. Harden and a hobbled Joel Embiid trying to run off an apparent ankle tweak in the third quarter snapped Philadelphia’s energy.
It did for the Suns as well, resulting in an 8-0 76ers run before Phoenix quickly reset and dominated clutch minutes again, scoring on six of its next seven possessions to seal the game.
Booker scored 22 points in the first quarter and finished with 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting.
Chris Paul looked like Chris Paul in his second game back after missing nearly a month, scoring 19 points, and dishing out 14 assists.
Harden had 14 points and nine assists, while Embiid finished with 37 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks.
Philly would have had a better chance with a better shooting night, as they shot 10-of-36 (27.8 percent) from 3-point range against a Suns defense that was content with overcommitting to the 76ers’ two stars and recovering to shooters.