PHOENIX – Suns head coach Alvin Gentry marched to the interview podium Friday after his team sprinted to its third straight 140-point game and promptly declared, “I can promise you we are not going to get 140 Sunday, not against Boston.”
That was exactly the reaction I got from a Celtics staffer when I told him of Gentry’s statement before Friday’s game about there being nothing wrong with winning basketball games 130-129: “That’s not happening on Sunday.”
Nope, nobody expects Phoenix to continue to scorch the scoreboard to that degree, but Sunday’s Celtics-Suns showdown will be the ultimate test of an offense averaging better than 140 points per game since the break and a defense that leads the NBA in defensive efficiency, yielding just 97.7 points per 100 possessions.
If the last three games against the Clippers, Clippers and Thunder are any indication, the Suns won’t care that they are playing the defending champs instead of some cellar dwellers. They still will play their game, push the tempo and try to run their way to a victory.
“Obviously they’re a very good defensive team,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “We’ve still got to continue to play and push the ball, play to our strengths and really test their comfort zone.”
Both teams will be getting acclimated to playing without their All-Star starting power forward, with the Suns’ Amare Stoudemire (eye surgery) likely shelved for the season and the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett (knee strain) out a couple weeks.
The injuries rob this matchup of some of its spice, especially because I couldn’t wait to see how Amare would respond to that ugly 0-for-7, one-rebound, four-turnover, 30-minute performance in Boston after which he complained about being triple-teamed. The entire game. When Brian Scalabrine of all people was his primary defender.
Not having KG to worry about offensively will make Small Ball that much more palatable, and the Celts’ D isn’t quite so mean without its anchor.
Also, you all know how little Amare’s absence mattered to the Suns in 2005-06, but you might not know that Boston has gone 12-2 and actually averaged 3.2 more points per game in contests KG has missed the past few years, although the defense allows almost five more points per game.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Gentry said. “We have a tremendous challenge on Sunday with the defending champions. With or without Kevin Garnett they’re a great team, and if you go back and look they’ve won a lot of games that he hasn’t played in. We look forward to the challenge, I think it will be great, and we’ll see what happens.”
If there was one game that epitomized the lack of spirit of the Terry Porter Era, it would be the Suns’ Jan. 19 beat down in Beantown, their fourth city in five days, for a game they didn’t seem to want to play.
The Celts embarrassed the Suns from the tip in a game they led by as many as 35, as Phoenix committed 23 turnovers and never found any offensive rhythm while Boston scored at will on the other end.
The Suns never looked less like the Suns under Porter than they did during that dreary night in New England.
Juxtapose that with the Gentry Suns, and it just doesn’t make sense.
After the Suns ran all over the Thunder on Friday, Kevin Durant said, “They’re just a different basketball team than we played before.”
The Suns’ mission today will be to make Paul Pierce put his name by that quote this afternoon.