LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Still perfect in the bubble and continuing their postseason push with a 128-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams says his team has to finish the job.
“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Williams said after the Suns ran their record to 6-0 since the restart. “It may sound like coach speak, but we dug ourselves a hole with our record. … We’re here and we’re thankful for that. But we haven’t accomplished anything as far as the main goal. Everybody is trying to get to the playoffs and we’ve just said we’re going to take it one step at a time.”
Phoenix trailed a Thunder resting three of its starters and still missing Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Dennis Schroder, who left Orlando to be with his wife for the birth of their second child. by 15 points in the first quarter.
But Devin Booker, as he’s been wont to do, got hot — leading all scorers with 35 points, including a 14-for-14 mark from the free throw line — and the Suns’ defense got stingy. Phoenix held Oklahoma City to just 37 points in the second half after allowing 37 points in the first quarter.
“It’s been fun,” Booker said after tying his own franchise record for most 35-point games in a single season, notching his 15th. “We’ve been playing really good basketball. We’ve been having fun on and off the court with each other. We’re becoming closer. We’re learning each other. And we’re communicating with each other.
“So, we’re taking it one game at a time. That’s been our mindset since we got here and we’re sticking with that. So, it’s been a competitive environment, a focused environment since we got down here. So we’re trying to maintain that, keep that going and finish this thing out strong.”
Phoenix (32-29) trail the Portland Trail Blazers (33-39) by a half-game for the No. 9 spot in the Western Conference with two seeding games remaining.
The Suns finish a back-to-back against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. The Sixers will be without both of their stars in Joel Embiid (left ankle) and Ben Simmons (left knee surgery) for the game.
Their final seeding game is Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks. Phoenix already beat the Mavs, 117-115, in their second game in Orlando.
Should Phoenix secure the No. 9 spot by the end of the seeding games, it would force a play-in tournament against whichever team finishes No. 8 and need to win two games before the eighth seed wins one to steal their first round playoff berth and a date with the No. 1-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
While Williams was reticent to validate the run his team’s been on, their six-game winning streak in the bubble is the longest win streak for the franchise since the Suns won six in a row nearly six years ago, in December 2014.
Of course, Phoenix is trying to break an even longer postseason drought, having not made the playoffs since 2010 when Steve Nash was running point guard.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise,” Booker said of the Suns’ time in Orlando. “From the moment we got down here, it’s been high energy and competitive. I don’t know if we’re going to win or lose, but I know we have some guys in this locker room that aren’t going to back down from any matchup or any competition.”
The entire pursuit — being invited to the bubble in the first place and then making a legitimate playoff run despite being 13 games under .500 when the NBA went on hiatus in March — is about as improbable as a possession the Suns had midway through the third quarter against the Thunder.
Booker, with his feet nearly touching the NBA logo plastered at half court, found himself with the ball in his hand and the shot clock winding down. With no time left to pass to a teammate, Booker let it fly from 39 feet away, making the 3 to push the Suns’ lead from 10 to 13.
“It was late shot clock and I just had to get one on the rim,” Booker said. “And I don’t shoot any shots to miss them.”