Phoenix Suns 79, Boston Celtics 71 -- Lipstick on a pig

Marcin Gortat led the Suns to a victory over Mickael Pietrus and the Boston Celtics. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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.

  • Scott

    Note that Brown and Dudley, in their new roles, were +11 on the ol’ +/- scale, leading the team. They played primarily for the 2nd unit, and spent a few minutes with the first as energy guys.

    Lowest +/- goes to Price (-4), Morris (-3), and Nash (+1).

    On defense, Price stayed in front of the ball handler coming up the court and did moderate defense on Allen (4 of 8). Price hit 2 of his 4 perimeter shots. I think he may get stronger in that type of role as he plays more.

    Morris worked hard, but didn’t score and turned the ball over. I think the lower ratings for Price, Morris, and Nash generally reflect the tougher time the starting unit faces against opposing starting units.

  • Scott

    Let me add, regarding that final point, that Gortat was only a +3, and yet he scored 24 pts, hit all of his free throws, snagged 12 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots.

  • sun-arc

    I think Price is doing more than his stat line shows. He kept Allen from taking more than 8 shots. That’s really big. He bothers the other team’s guard. That’s huge.

    Gortat is the hero of the game, with Hill a close 2nd.

    I think they’ll have to improve everything more than this to be in the playoffs. But I think they very well can do it, if the chemistry of both units keeps rising. Morris will play better. Telfair will play better. Frye will start hitting shots. I just hope they keep playing with energy, grit, and determination.

    You know what else is a good sign? Not having to come from behind (and often failing like last year) in these wins. That is what they need. It has to help chemistry and trust.

  • shazam

    “dogs look up to you…cats look down on you…pigs treat you as an equal”-winston churchill
    …i thought it was a fun game to watch…we have enough position fillers to compete for a full 48 minutes..thats our saving grace..providing the players give it their all…and im getting damn impressed w/ some of the new defense wrinkles

  • Elviro (Italy)

    … wow, it’s amazing! we won another one! Super Gortat! I’m voting for the All Star game with Nash! Morris is it me or is just a “slowing down” in recent games? …. even so it is normal for a rookie! however, just do not think I could win in NY and Boston! I love this team …. hope the best for the future!

  • Scott

    @Elviro -

    Morris is playing more in the NBA than he did in college. I’d expect it to catch up to him.

    And while Gortat has been playing well, I’d like to see him have a breakthrough game where he scores 35 or more points. Right now I wonder if he has a bit of a psychological barrier; maybe he’s thinking his natural scoring limit is lower and he unconsciously slows down or stops scoring when he hits the low 20s.

    BTW, you asked earlier about ranking the NBA’s Italian players, and I had Bargnani ranked last. Well, I understand he’s playing much better this year, with a stat line more like Dirk’s, so that’s got to make him either the best or second best.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    THORTAT!?!?!? Doesn’t push 30 plus for one simple reason.

    You still can’t go to him in the 4th in close games – yet.

    Once he’s a bit more polished and his free throws are a bit more reliable I’d expect PHX to milk him late in games. Then, naturally, a lot of 30 plus games would follow.

    Gortat is still a work in progress and as long as he keeps improving I have no doubt the monster scoring games will come.

    Though, personally I’d like more 15 – 18 rebound games. I hope that part of his game improves too.

  • steve

    GORTAT! What a stud! He deserves to be an all star. I really hope marc gasol doesn’t get in before him. That would be a shame. The next step is for him to start putting up MONSTER lines. I could go for a 37/19 line. It always feels good to beat the celtics, btw.

  • Big Daddy

    I was at the game last night and was one out of possibly 5 suns fans there. Gortat was the best player on the court last night, no one on the celtics could match up with him.

  • shazam

    BREAKING NEWS ..Newt Gingrich asked his ex wife before divorce if she would do an “open marriage”..Investigators have confirmed that Gingrich cheating on his wives is all ROBERT SARVERS fault…Just like everything else.

  • Cam

    @Rich (KJL)
    I agree with most of your post. Gortat seems to be getting more confidence in his post game, which is nice to see. He also happened to hit some free throws late in the game. Nice to see progress from some of the Suns players. Go Suns.

  • Zak

    Gortat has the potential to be a monster. The Suns need to concentrate on getting a supporting cast for him in the future. The Suns just need to keep from spending too much money on more role players, hope to grab at least one gem from this year’s draft and then some of the elite players will at least start considering Phoenix as a choice when they become FAs.

    At worst, I see Gortat as becoming the perfect Robin if not Batman himself.

    And the lineup changes seem to have worked out very well. Morris seems to be struggling a bit offensively since he’s now playing mostly against 1st team opponents but the second team seems stronger after the changes. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Suns do against Dallas Monday.

  • Scott

    No Dirk in the next game … he’s out with a bad knee for about two weeks or so.

    Vince Carter is also presently out. He’s got a mild ankle sprain with no timetable for return. I’d assume he’ll be better by the Suns game, but who knows?

    Odom is expected to take the place of Nowitski.

  • shazam

    hey scott i was just going to post that…any one have more clarity about michael redd?…i might have to back track on my prediction that he would be starting with in a month

  • Mel.

    “Vince Carter is also presently out. He’s got a mild ankle sprain with no timetable for return. I’d assume he’ll be better by the Suns game, but who knows?”

    Let’s hope against it. No slight against VC and his new digs, but any time that we can count AGAINST Marley having a reason to come flopping into the blog with his patent brand of blathering is a definite plus.

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    I’m not sure what’s going on with Redd. On the hopeful side, I’d guess since shooting comes from the legs he’s still trying to get his legs under him, and logically shouldn’t have his legs for, say, another two weeks. He said in a recent interview that he could finally start to feel like his legs were able to support him properly on cuts and he was better able to keep up with where he was supposed to be on plays. So, if that’s the case, then logically the next thing to wait for is for his shot to start falling.

    I think the Suns were almost certainly premature in declaring him ready and putting him into the lineup. Maybe he was hitting shots in shooting practice, but he wasn’t ready for actual games.

    On the darker side of the issue, though, is the observation that when Redd did return to the Bucks last season after his injury and rehab, his shot was terrible and they couldn’t afford to keep him on the court. Maybe he just can’t play any more?

    So I fall back to the original rationale: Redd is on a cheap contract to see if he’s still got something in the tank. If he does, then he gets court time and helps both himself and the Suns. If he doesn’t, then he stays rooted to the bench and the Suns are out the cost of a minor contract.

    There’s more reward than risk in that equation, but it is still possible to lose.