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Sixers attempt to restrict Devin Booker, challenge Suns to beat them elsewhere

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) has his shot altered by Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (9) and guard Ben Simmons (25) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — They call it the star treatment.

Whether it’s getting a kinder whistle than most from officials or having defenses automatically hone in on what you are doing, when you reach a certain level in basketball, there’s more of it.

Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker is only 21 years old, but he saw quite the example of what life is like in that role Sunday during a 123-110 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Philadelphia made life tough at a moment when Booker didn’t have much help around him.

The Sixers were poised to not have a repeat of the early December performance that saw Booker drop 46 points on them in Philadelphia.

“They weren’t gonna let that happen again,” head coach Jay Triano said.

Booker took only six shots in the first half and made only one.

As far as help defense, the Sixers were living with leaving Tyson Chandler or Josh Jackson more room to make sure Booker couldn’t have any.

When Booker would catch the ball at the elbow and isolate on his primary defender, Robert Covington, he could create a little bit of space for his shot, but once that space opened up, Amir Johnson would leave Tyson Chandler to cut it off.

That rotation would equate to the defender in the other corner tagging on Chandler quickly, meaning someone was open for Booker momentarily. But it was in an extremely aggressive manner meant to make Booker pass the ball to the open man or dribble it out and reset.

Booker picked up on this, getting two straight successful lob passes to Chandler off those rotations.

“Book made the right plays, tried to pass it and played four against three,” Triano said.

The defining possession was near the end of the first half when, at the halfcourt Suns logo, Booker had the smaller Jerryd Bayless defending him.

As Booker dribbled out the shot clock and isolated, Sixers head coach Brett Brown screamed at forward Trevor Booker to double him despite Booker being 10 feet from the 3-point line. That possession ended like Philly wanted, without the star shooting guard influencing the play.

“The attention he received on pick and rolls especially with Joel (Embiid) and Dario (Saric) or Amir (Johnson) or whoever was usually two people and I think that Robert (Covington) did a really good job tonight,” Brown said after the game.

The Suns, and Booker, would adjust. He was ready for the scrambling, rapid rotations in his direction and got his shot off quicker, even with little to no space. With that, he scored 12 points in the first five minutes and change of the second half and finished with 16 in the third quarter.

He’d add 12 in the fourth to make it 32 total on the night, proving exactly why Brown and his staff game-planned around stopping him.

Booker was also on top of moving the ball quickly when he had to, finishing with six assists and setting up a handful of other looks.

It’s part of what Booker will have to do as teams across the league continue to give him more attention and force both him and his teammates to step up.

“We’re going to need to expect that because he’s a great player,” Triano said of Booker.

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