Allowing Booker to Score 70 Means Earl Watson Gets It

Mar 14, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson and guard Devin Booker (1) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson and guard Devin Booker (1) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Earl Watson showed all of the Valley of the Suns something about himself last night by allowing Devin Booker to score 70 points. Even though he has been publicly unhappy being forced to sit many of his veteran players, by allowing (and encouraging) Devin Booker to go off the way he did, Watson proved that he gets it. And now he too is officially a part of the big picture.

Nothing was going to stop Devin Booker from scoring as many points as he possibly could in the fourth quarter last night. In fact, Earl Watson was encouraging it by calling for intentional fouls, taking timeouts, and drawing up plays just for Booker to get open.

With the Suns down 17 points heading into the final period, Watson had a choice: rest Devin Booker who had just set his career-high of 42 points, protecting him from injury on the second night of a back-to-back allowing Jarell Eddie a few more minutes of NBA experience, or let Booker play the game out and pour it on giving the Suns team and their fans something exciting to cheer for – a rarity in 2016-17.

Earl Watson, wisely, chose the latter.

During the heat of the moment the bigger picture was likely totally unknown to him at the time that UCLA men’s basketball coach, Steve Alford, who for several weeks now has been speculated to take over the vacant Indiana Hoosiers position, announced after his team’s loss in the Sweet 16 that he is “100% not going to Indiana” and as such would remain the Head Coach of the UCLA Bruins.

This surprising announcement officially closed the door on Earl Watson leaving for Los Angeles this summer (should the job had even been offered to him) thus keeping him with the Phoenix Suns for the foreseeable future.

It was obvious early in the game that this was not the same Boston Celtics team that the Suns had stolen a victory from three weeks ago. That team had been short-handed themselves and Isaiah Thomas was not enough to carry Boston to victory. Last night the Celtics had their full contingent of star parts and within moments of the very unique Thomas v Ulis opening tip-off, the game was out of hand for Phoenix and totally under Boston’s control.

By halftime the Suns were down 23, which alone would have been one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history had the Celtics absolutely collapsed, meaning the gameplan could change entirely from teamwork basketball, to Bookerball – and Watson approved.

As Booker began pouring in his points in the third and quickly broke his personal best (coupled with Boston maintaining their strong lead) Watson recognized that there was a way of stealing a ‘victory’ from the Celtics – let Booker score more.

And so he did. Although almost unfathomable was the way in which he reached 70 points.

With one minute remaining Booker had 64 points. Superstitiously enough, athletes and their fans love  round numbers, so 64 wasn’t going to be the final total. With :45.2 seconds remaining, Booker hit a free throw giving him 65. Then :.3 seconds later Alan Williams intentionally fouled Isaiah Thomas stopping the clock (as directed by Earl Watson). After Thomas hit his two free throws, Watson called a 20-second timeout setting up a play for Booker and moving the ball up to halfcourt.

For some inexplicable reason Isaiah Thomas fouled Booker in the act of shooting a three with :42.0 seconds remaining, once again stopping the clock. Booker calmly sank all three free throws giving him 68, and :.6 seconds later, on the ensuing inbounds pass, Thomas was once again intentionally fouled, this time by Tyler Ulis, again stopping the clock.

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After draining both of those free throws, Watson called a timeout moving the ball upcourt. During the play following, the Celtics could not manage to keep their hands off Booker, as this time Jae Crowder hacked him on a shot, stopping the clock.

Reaching the 70 mark on those free throws, Watson was now out of timeouts. There was still more than enough time to try to score again and Booker had two more attempts, but his legs were obviously done and they both fell short as he didn’t get the lift necessary on either shot.

Everybody in Suns fandom knew that by allowing Booker to score 70 points in the manner it was accomplished was in a way standing the Celtics up. But the Celtic players who were soured by the feat failed to appreciate the context in which the moment lived: Boston had already clinched a playoff berth several days ago, whereas the Suns had already been eliminated from contention and were coming off of a loss to a 14-win team the night before. The Suns were also benching three veterans, two of whom were two of their best players, and they all know that a ‘win’ at this point in the season is achieved by a moral victory and not a notch in the standings.

Following the game several Celtics brought their unhappiness to the public. Gerald Green, Jae Crowder, and Isaiah Thomas, each protested the events of the evening and found ways of expressing their displeasure on the court, to the news media, and on social media.

Made aware of some of the complaints in the postgame, Watson took the season into perspective in a far more productive and mature manner than the Celtics had aired their grievances.

In his postgame press conference Watson argued that the complaining Celtics players were missing the point. Boston was winning. The Suns weren’t going to be able to change that fact. So was his team supposed to roll over and play dead, or find something that they could take pride in?

Watson wisely chose the latter, telling reporters,

"“I’m not coming to any arena just happy to be there or trying to be liked…I don’t care about being liked. I really don’t care, to be honest with you. We’re trying to build something with this young group. People don’t like it while we build it? So what, do something about it…It’s about letting our kids be great. You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”"

(I added the italics on the word great, but I’m pretty sure that he intended on that word to be emphasized).

That in a nutshell is the big picture. Even though he hasn’t been entirely happy with the process, Watson understands and appreciates what the Suns are building and is a part of making it great. Now that the UCLA job is not available to him anymore, he is now fully entrenched in the rebuilding process here in Phoenix long-term and will be the first coach to try and lead the charge back into the playoffs.

By allowing Booker to do what he did last night, selfishly or not, arrogantly or not, Watson proved to the Valley of the Suns that he gets it. This season was, and still is, about building for the future. Allowing Devin Booker to score 70 points was part of the building process and a step in the right direction. There is no turning back now for Phoenix, and there is no walking away for Watson. The moment for ultimate success is near and last night was a step closer to the dream of success becoming a reality.

Earl Watson gets it. And now the NBA is beginning to be in awe of it.