BOSTON — The Boston Celtics are widely known around the NBA as the baddest team in the land, and the Phoenix Suns stared them right in the eye without flinching Wednesday night in the TD Garden.
They did so both on the scoreboard, where they brought a 29-point second-half lead all the way down to eight without a starter on the floor before falling 115-103, and they did so by physically fighting back against a Celtics squad that wanted revenge following the overblown aftereffects of the teams’ meeting in Phoenix a month ago.
The Celtics came out with an edge and built their lead by playing at the fevered emotional pitch that they are best at. The Suns’ starters had no answers as they were largely held to the perimeter while Boston torched them inside. The Celts got five layups or dunks in the first four minutes alone and doubled the Suns in the paint for the game (52-26).
That emotion spilled over in the final seconds as Kevin Garnett earned a technical with 16 seconds left for jawing at the Suns’ bench and then Rajon Rondo shot a three-pointer at the buzzer in a game long decided. But Jared Dudley wouldn’t stand for that, so he fouled Rondo good and hard by the Suns’ bench to let him know how he felt about running up the score.
“I just did what I was taught since playing this game,” Dudley tweeted.
Alvin Gentry feigned not caring by saying, “That’s no big deal, you play to win the game. You’re supposed to play for 48 minutes, he wanted to shoot and he shot it. I don’t see anything wrong with that. He’s supposed to play 48 minutes, there was two seconds or four seconds to go, you play 48 minutes. I don’t have a problem with that, I really don’t.”
I would love to hear what Gentry really thinks in a candid moment, but he probably did not want to stir up KG and the Celtics anymore after his comments about losing a little respect for Garnett after he hit Channing Frye in the groin fired up the Celtics for this one so much.
Doc Rivers could see that fire burning in his squad at shootaround, and Paul Pierce felt there was carryover from the beatdown in Phoenix.
“It got kind of heated down the stretch and some words were said in the paper from the Phoenix side,” said Pierce, alluding to Gentry’s comments. “Coming into the game we felt that this was, we were hyped for this game truthfully. We couldn’t wait to get them back in our building based on what happened last time and some of the words. It was very refreshing to go out there and get this win how we did it.”
Rivers also had no problem with Rondo’s late shot, instead calling out the Suns’ bench for doing a bit too much chirping.
Whatever it was KG channeled the 2004 version of himself by exploding for a season-high 28 points on 12-for-14 shooting while also pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking a pair of shots. Perhaps proving a point after their tiff last month, KG abused Frye in the post, although Gentry wasn’t so sure it was because of the revenge factor.
“I’m sure if it is Doc hopes he gets pissed off at every coach in the league,” Gentry said. “I don’t see anything, I think we’re making a big deal out of nothing. In the grand scheme of things it’s one game that we play, and he played great, you got to give him credit.”
The Suns’ starters, meanwhile, did not play great, as all five of them boasted negative plus/minus ratings, with Grant Hill the worst losing 25 points in 27 minutes. The bench saved this one from being a laugher with everybody off the pine gaining at least nine points, led by Hakim Warrick’s plus 15 in 23 minutes.
Phoenix scored the last nine points in the third in large part due to three Dudley buckets and continued to pour it on in the fourth by scoring the first nine in that period for an 18-0 run that made this a 10-point game with 8:37 remaining.
Gentry rightly chose to roll with his bench to the finish as the reserve unit finally got the Suns out into the open court after the team lacked any rhythm the first two and a half quarters.
“I think we played extremely well in the second half, especially the second unit,” Mickael Pietrus said.
Added Marcin Gortat, “We didn’t have anything to lose.”
Aaron Brooks was the catalyst of the attack by scoring 14 of his 17 points during the second half run while also finishing with seven assists on 6-for-7 shooting in his 21 minutes of action. Dudley added 15, Pietrus 11 and Gortat 13 and 13 for a bench that had twice as many players in double figures as the starters.
“We have a good second unit,” Brooks said. “Everybody’s been a starter on that second unit before, they know how to play. It makes us dangerous.”
Playing with such a deficit may have helped a second-unit that has put together back-to-back impressive showings after blowing many a lead earlier this season as they could play loose without the pressure of protecting an advantage.
But on this night that wasn’t enough against a Celtics squad that came out as motivated as they were lethargic in their 88-71 loss in the Valley, even if Dudley did deliver the final blow.
“We’ve got some work to do to be able to play with teams like this,” Gentry said. “I thought our second unit did a good job. We’ve got to get our starters competing and playing at the same level and playing better than we have.”
Channing Frye and Vince Carter ran into each other and viciously bumped heads with 4:53 left in the third. Neither player returned, as Frye suffered an eye contusion and Carter a mouth laceration. “One of those freak things that happens,” Gentry said. … The Celts won the battle of the boards 45-33. After Gortat’s 13 the next highest Sun was Dudley with five. Speaking of JMZ, Dudley threw down his fifth dunk of the season tonight. Still waiting for a posterization, though. …. Phoenix lost its first game since the All-Star break after winning its first four. … Nash failed to record double-digit assists after doing so in 10 straight and 14 of 15. He finished with seven. … The rafters of the TD Garden look like a Sudoku puzzle with so many retired numbers in boxes up there.