On a night of ugly basketball, the Suns were able to apply just enough lipstick to be the prettiest belle at the ball. Though the Suns set their season high in turnovers, they defeated Boston 79-71 on the fourth night of a five-game road trip for Phoenix.
Marcin Gortat (24) and Jared Dudley (12) led the way for the Suns in the scoring column, and Steve Nash added nine assists while posting 11 points of his own. With Celtics starting point guard Rajon Rondo sidelined by a wrist injury, Boston was unable to put together enough offense to take advantage of a rather lackluster performance by the Suns.
The two teams combined to shoot just over 42 percent from the field, but the biggest problem on the offensive end for both sides was holding onto the ball; the two teams combined for 39 turnovers. The Celtics came into the game with the third highest turnover rate in the league, and the absence of Rondo merely exacerbated a season-long problem. The high number of turnovers was even more egregious due to the slow pace of the game (an estimated 89 possessions, per HoopData’s formula); no surprise, however, given that both teams are in the bottom half of the league in pace on the season.
Boston combined its sloppy play with an inability to get to the free throw line. The Celtics attempted only nine free throws to 74 field goal attempts, for a 12.2 team free throw rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts, times 100).* The Big 3 struggled for most of the night; both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce struggled from the field, shooting 37 percent combined, and Ray Allen “led” both teams with five turnovers. Avery Bradley acquitted himself fairly well for a backup thrust into the starting lineup, but he tallied only one assist.
*For context, the Rockets have the lowest free throw rate in the league, at a hair over 20.
The Suns once again went with Ronnie Price and Markieff Morris in the starting lineup, and Dudley provided quite the spark off the bench as a type of point forward playing alongside Sebastian Telfair and Channing Frye. Frye continued his poor shooting, but Telfair ran the floor well in his limited time and managed to avoid turning the ball over — a remarkable occurrence for any player on the night. Though Frye’s shooting was off tonight, he was at least more accurate than Morris, who scored zero points (0-for-3) in 20 minutes; Morris did grab four rebounds, though he matched that with four turnovers. Grant Hill continued his woes from deep (he’s now 1-for-17 from three on the season), but he showed significantly more lift on his shots, nailed a couple pretty jumpers from right around 15-feet and snared eight caroms, second only to Gortat (12).
Though Phoenix led by 11 at halftime, a cold start to the third quarter let Boston back into the game, and, for a moment, the Celtics seized the lead at 53-50. In the first six minutes of the third, the Suns scored only six points, but a little burst to end the quarter put Phoenix back in the lead to stay. The Celtics made it interesting again in the fourth when former Sun Mickael Pietrus buried a three from the corner to pull Boston within five, but Gortat sank two cold-blooded free throws at the other end to secure the win for the Suns.
Speaking of Gortat, the lone bright spot amid the muck was the as-usual brilliance of he and Nash operating the pick and roll. Whether he was setting the screen and letting Nash choose to use it or go away from it, or slipping the screen as the Celtics vacated the post to hedge on Nash, Gortat displayed his full offensive arsenal. He even hit a nifty turnaround fadeaway jump shot from just outside the paint in the first half that must have surprised even him. And Gortat didn’t limit himself to working with Nash; in the first quarter, Price found him on a gorgeous look off a screen for a one-handed, full extension smash.
Michael Redd, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick were all out of the rotation tonight; with the Suns rested after having the night off on Thursday, coach Alvin Gentry relied heavily on his starters. Gortat and Nash both played 38 minutes, Hill played 35 and Ronnie Price played 30 for only the third time on the season — and second with Nash in the lineup. Those worried about wearing out the starters, however, should rest assured, as Phoenix is off for the next two nights before a matchup with their old friends, the Dallas Mavericks.