PHOENIX — Nothing about Friday’s 88-71 victory over the Boston Celtics was typical of the Phoenix Suns basketball team we’ve seen all season.
The Suns blew out the Eastern Conference’s best team Friday night and held a comfortable working margin all game after dropping three in a row to mediocre East squads from Charlotte and Philly and a crummy one from Detroit.
Phoenix held a Boston team that leads the league with 50.2 percent shooting to a mere 34.2 percent marksmanship and 11.1 percent shooting from three a game after allowing the Bobcats, who shoot less than 45 percent, to hit better than half their shots and 52.9 percent from distance.
Not only was this a season-low scoring effort and opponent-season low for Phoenix, the Suns had not allowed such a low percentage since November 2008 and Boston has not shot this poorly since February 2007, when Kevin Garnett was still toiling away in Minnesota.
“Obviously it was a much-needed win for us,” Alvin Gentry said.
The Suns’ defense and the stellar play of their two-headed center monster should have been the story, but instead that thunder was stolen by Kevin Garnett, whose dirty play fired up a Suns team that Steve Nash said was just missing that something extra after the last loss.
With the Suns up 11 with just over four minutes to play, Garnett stepped under Channing Frye as he attempted a jumper for the second time this game and then tapped him in the groin area for good measure.
Like any guy would, Frye took exception and a scuffle ensued that resulted in Garnett’s ejection with two technicals, a Frye technical and techs for Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins.
“Somebody felt like they needed to make a play,” Frye said. “They made it, and I just didn’t think it was an appropriate play to make.”
Frye felt Garnett stepping under him a second time was “a little much” and then joked about how every year it’s him getting into an altercation after his skirmish with Earl Watson last season.
But altercations are more than a yearly occurrence for KG, who got into it with Mickael Pietrus a few minutes earlier when Pietrus earned a flagrant 1 by going high with his forearm on Garnett navigating around a KG screen (possibly in retaliation for something earlier that we missed).
One of KG’s famed staredowns ensued, and all was well for a few minutes before Garnett’s love tap on Frye.
Pietrus originally described the play as “just two teams who want to win,” but he later elaborated with an answer about what these scuffles might ultimately mean for Phoenix.
“That’s not who the Suns are. I’ve heard the Suns are soft and everything like that,” said Pietrus, who scored 11 points in his return to the rotation with 24 minutes of playing time. “No, that’s not happening this year. We’re not soft. I’ll make sure when we come out we come out hard. That’s my job.”
The Suns proved they are not soft by standing up to the big, bad Celtics and largely beating them at their own game in a contest that included a 19-19 second quarter and an even more gruesome 13-13 fourth quarter.
That started in the opening quarter when Robin Lopez made his presence felt and putting Boston’s entire front line in foul trouble and then Marcin Gortat continued right along with a career game.
Combined the Gor-pez (or Lo-tat if that’s your preference) front line produced 30 points and 20 rebounds against Shaq, KG and company.
“If we could get that every night we’d be ecstatic,” Gentry said.
Gortat enjoyed a career game by setting a career high in points (19) and coming one board shy of a career high in rebounds (17) while providing a strong defensive presence in 30 minutes of work. He voraciously attacked the boards like Suns fans have always wanted a big to do — on one possession defending a KG jumper and then diving into the paint to corral the board — and he even knocked down a three-pointer at the first quarter buzzer to boot.
“Just to let you know guys, one day it will stop,” Gortat said of his continued career-high performances. “It’s going to go to a certain point and then it will stop. I was sitting at home thinking about a lot of things, and I’m just glad for that opportunity that I have here, and I’m just trying to be productive. I still believe I can do better.”
Gortat would be hard pressed to do much better than this after a contest in which the Suns won the battle of the boards 45-40 over Boston in a game in which only Garnett had more than a quarter of Marcin’s board total.
Every time the Celtics made a run the Suns answered back, and the Suns managed to blow out Boston on a night they shot 43.2 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three while committing 18 turnovers, which would not have been possible without the ultra-energetic effort that stemmed from Thursday’s tough practice.
“You could see the way we were competing,” Gortat said of that practice. “I was just wondering why we couldn’t bring the same energy and the same toughness to the game, and we did it.
“I think the energy that we brought today was the crucial thing.”
It’s stunning that a Suns team that appeared ready to wave the white flag a few nights ago led the Boston Celtics by more points than any team has all season.
But such was life on an evening in which everything went right for the Suns and everything wrong for the Celtics.
Perhaps some of this can be attributed to lackadaisical play from Boston coming in during the wee hours of the morning, but if the Suns brought this much energy every night they wouldn’t be three games under .500.
“I hope it’s not only one game,” Gortat said of that effort. “We also can’t sit down now and enjoy because we beat Boston.”
The Suns still have their work cut out for them to get back into the playoff race, but if they can bottle up this passion and exhibit this kind of toughness more often it may be too early to abandon hope on this season.