PHOENIX — As Chris Paul brought the ball up the court with about three minutes to play, a spectator seated about two-thirds of the way up Section 102 of the Footprint Center hollered, “Ball game!”

He was right. Paul drained one of his vintage pull-up jumpers, which all but sealed the Phoenix Suns’ 114-104 victory over the 76ers Sunday night.

“Obviously, we know we can play with anyone,” coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “But just playing with anyone is not satisfying to me. These are winnable games, tonight we didn’t win. ... We need to know that we’re not ready yet. We need to do work and we need to get in there and want to do work. But we can be really good, and it was all over the game.

“You could see it, and then you could see the other side of it, as well. I thought, visually, this was a great example of where we are and can be, and then where we’re not.”

The loss to the NBA’s best team shifted the Sixers’ positioning in a jam-packed top of the Eastern Conference. They entered the day tied with the Miami Heat for first place, and a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. They will wake up Monday in fourth place, a half-game back of the Celtics (47-28) and Heat (47-28) and also behind the third-place Bucks, who have an identical 46-28 record but hold the division-record tiebreaker. The Sixers next host Milwaukee Tuesday.

The Sixers (46-28) got off to a scorching start, shooting 60% in the first quarter and building a 15-point lead in the second when Danny Green grabbed his own three-point miss, dribbled to the opposite corner and buried the long-range shot. But the Suns (61-14) steadily rallied back, and took a 71-69 lead on a Jae Crowder three-pointer with about eight minutes to play in the third.

Neither team created separation until the fourth, when Landry Shamet buried back-to-back three-pointers as part of an 18-6 run to propel the Suns’ lead to 101-90 with less than eight minutes to play. The Sixers answered with their own 10-0 spurt to get within one point on two Joel Embiid free throws, before Booker answered with an and-one jumper and Deandre Ayton followed with a jumper in the lane ahead of Paul’s big shot.

“We didn’t finish the game how we needed to,” said All-Star guard James Harden, who finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists. “Mental lapses. Defensive breakdowns. Offensively being stagnant and not getting really good possessions. And they capitalized. Tough one, but definitely a learning experience.”

Embiid vs. Booker

Embiid has been an MVP frontrunner all season. Devin Booker, meanwhile, is making a late charge for the award, given his play while Paul was out with a thumb injury and that the Suns have already clinched the NBA’s best regular-season record.

Both players showed why on Sunday. Embiid finished with 37 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Booker collected 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting.

“We lost, so I’m focused on how I can help myself and the team,” Embiid said of his performance. “ … But it’s always good playing against these types of team.”

Booker exploded for 22 first-quarter points on 8-of-11 shooting, mixing crafty finishes at the basket with mid-range and three-point jumpers. He went scoreless in the second, while the Sixers built their double-digit lead. But Booker regained his rhythm after the break, dribbling to the corner to drill a long jumper that tied the score at 81 before stepping to the free-throw line after an and-one jumper to put his team up, 89-84, while “MVP!” chants rained down.

Embiid, meanwhile, totaled 15 first-quarter points on 6-of-8 shooting but went 1-of-4 from the floor in the second. He had 10 points in the third, and suffered a brief health scare when he twisted his ankle after landing on another player’s foot. As he walked gingerly back to the huddle, Booker checked in with him.

Harris surges, Maxey struggles

When the Sixers built a 14-point lead in the second quarter, Tobias Harris (17 points, 8 rebounds) was the engine with Embiid and Harden on the bench. His spin and finish inside, then a jumper on the Sixers’ next possession, pushed their lead to 51-37. In the second quarter, he had 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

“The ball was gravitating towards me to make plays,” Harris said. “Got into the pick and roll with DJ [DeAndre Jordan] to kind of open up a few things. I thought that whole group, we got out there and we played with great pace and really defensively we were able to get stops and run. That was what added to the rhythm and the bounce in the step for the guys on the floor and myself at that time. Just was taking advantage of the opportunity.”

That more efficient scoring punch was needed on a night when Maxey went 7-of-21 from the floor to finish with 18 points. He missed his first six three-point attempts before making one that gave the Sixers a 72-71 lead about midway through the third quarter, and then hit two more in the fourth that cut the Suns’ lead to 101-98 with about five minutes to go.

Rivers pulled Maxey as they walked to the locker room at halftime to remind him to get into the paint, asking, “Have your fingernails hit the backboard one time?” This game, the coach added, was an example that the second-year guard is still sometimes deferring too much to Embiid an Harden.

“Three or four times, the rebounds or loose balls came to him and he’s looking to give it up,” Rivers said. “ ... We threw it cross-court backwards once. But those are the things we’ll watch in film and we’ll get better. And those are the things, for me as a coach, I just got to keep assuring him that it’s OK to do that.

“When you’re playing with stars, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I got to give it to them.’ No, you don’t. You’ve got to give it to them after you can see if you can get to the basket first.”

Familiar faces

A couple Suns with Philly or Sixers ties made an imprint on the game.

Mikal Bridges, the former Villanova star and Sixers draft pick, scored 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He helped key the Suns’ first-half comeback when he hit a corner three, threw down a transition dunk, and hit a jumper to cut the Sixers’ advantage to 54-50 with about five minutes to play in the first half.

Bridges, who played almost 41 minutes, also spent the bulk of the game guarding James Harden, who finished 2-of-11 from the floor, missing all six of this two-point shots.

“He’s just solid and long [and] athletic,” Harden said of Bridges.

After Bridges’ burst, Shamet, a former Sixer, made a three-pointer and converted a fastbreak dunk to get the Suns within 62-57. Then came his big shots in the fourth to finish with 12 points.

Dario Saric, another former Sixer, remains out while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and was spotted chatting with Sixers staffers in the hallway following the game.

Suns coach Monty Williams was an assistant on Brett Brown’s 2018-19 Sixers staff before being hired by Phoenix, while lead Suns assistant Kevin Young is also a former Sixers assistant.