Preview: Phoenix Suns (5-9) at Boston Celtics (5-8)

Phoenix Suns 79, Boston Celtics 71



Stability is the reason the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns have remained perennial playoff contenders.

It’s also a painful reminder that all good things come to an end.

The Suns, with dinosaurs in Steve Nash (37 years old) and Grant Hill (39), are off to a rough 5-9 start and, as we’ve been anticipating since the preseason, won’t smell the playoffs. Though the 5-8 Celtics are in a much earlier stage of ending their era of Paul Pierce (34), Kevin Garnett (35) and Ray Allen (36), the chatter around the NBA community revolves around the chances of any “core-shaking” moves, as calls it. 

All in all, tonight’s battle in Boston will feature five elderly potential Hall of Famers who are refusing to give in to their age. Allen leads the Celtics with 15.6 points per game, and Garnett paces them in rebounds at 7.5 per night.

The Suns also have veterans affirming their grip on the team. Nash is coming off a 26-point, 11-assist night in a win at New York. Hill had one of his best games this season as well, scoring 14 in 38 aggressive minutes where he launched 15 shots and limited Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony to 12 points.

But with all the notoriety on the veterans, the X-factors in this game could be two players in their 20s.

Suns center Marcin Gortat has been on a tear with six double-doubles in a row, and aside from Nash has been one of the few consistent pieces for Phoenix.

Of course, Boston’s best player has been point guard Rajon Rondo, whose 15 points, 9.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game have become the fuel for the Celtics’ engine. Phoenix might catch a huge break, however. The Suns have struggled to contain elite point guards this season, and Rondo is doubtful for the Phoenix game with a right wrist injury, according to ESPN Boston.

“It’s still sore; I took like 10 Advil, so I’m OK,” Rondo told the media. “I don’t know [about Friday's game]. Hopefully I get a good night’s rest. I’ll be in treatment pretty much all day today. Other than that. We’ll see tomorrow.”

With veteran point guard Keyon Dooling also sitting out, it’s likely second-year pro Avery Bradley will take most of Rondo’s minutes should he miss the game. Rookie E’Twaun Moore could also see playing time.

In the end, this one will come down to defense and rebounding, both of which have been troublesome for the Celtics this season.

Such is life with an older Garnett and a creaky-kneed Jermaine O’Neal manning the middle. Even with a physical power forward in Brandon Bass seeing 30-plus minutes, the Suns could win the inside battle should Gortat continue on his current effectiveness.

And if Rondo is out, the advantage at the most vital position for either squad swings completely from Boston’s favor to Phoenix’s.

Phoenix’s keys to the game

1. Speed it up.

While the Suns aren’t especially fast, the Celtics don’t want a high-octane affair, especially with the potential inexperience at the point guard position. Phoenix could pressure Boston’s centers to run up and down the floor, and if head coach Alvin Gentry stays with his lineup of Markieff Morris and Ronnie Price starting for Channing Frye and Jared Dudley, there’s certainly more speed to help increase the tempo.

2. Give Hill the green light.

I said it before the season and I’ll say it again: Grant Hill should shoot more. It does little good if he’s working hard to defend a player like Paul Pierce or Ray Allen, and he’s not making them do the same to him. Hill is one of the few Suns who can create his own shots — even though he rarely does. Of course, if he’s still beat down from injuries this point is moot, but the Knicks game might have been a sign that Hill is capable of playing heavier minutes.

3. Run Boston off the three-point line.

With Celtics like Allen and Pierce having solid true shooting percentages — Allen’s stands at a scary 67.3 — Phoenix should take its chances by forcing two-point shots on the move, or even shots over Gortat and Robin Lopez in the paint. The Celtics aren’t all that athletic, and I’d trust contested shots over the Suns’ size than letting them launch set three-pointers.

  • JT’s Hoops Blog

    Both teams are struggling with have players that are over the Hill. It will be an interesting game to see.

  • Cam

    So now that Westbrook is off the table and the chances of the Suns landing a superstar like D-will or dwight Howard, will the Suns focus on re-signing Nash and throwing money at a player like Harden? He is a young SG playing really well and most likely available because OKC won’t be able to afford him now. The Suns could get him, re-sign Nash, and theoretically still have some cap space left over. Coupled with what seems to be turning into a lottery draft pick, the rebuild might start sooner than later and be shorter/less painful than I expected.
    1st unit-

    2nd unit-
    Fropez (if re-signed)/ rookie

  • Cam

    I meant to say “the chances of the Suns signing D-will or Dwight Howard are pretty much zero,”

    Go Suns.

  • Cam

    If the Suns could draft an explosive SF to learn behind Hill, i think the Suns could be a really interesting team going forward. After watching Nash carry the team these last few games I think the Suns re-signing him for 2-3 more years might actually be worth it and benefit the team. A core of Harden, Morris, and Gortat with Dudley, Frye, and Fropez doesn’t look so bad. If Fropez is had forte right price he could end up being the annual trade bait, much like Gortat was in orlando. He is still quite young and as long as the back is kept together by the warlocks I see no reason for him not to play better and better.his stat lines are erratic, but so was gortat’s once upon a time in Orlando. BTW, is Nicolas Batum a FA next year. He might be worth pursuing also. Go Suns.

  • Cam

    Im having a rough go. I thought harden was a FA next year. Nope, forget him, Eric Gordon is who I should have been writing about. Go Suns.

  • Zak

    I’m at the point where I just don’t see much hope for the Suns this season. I will cheer them on every game and hope for the best but I think the best they can look forward to is a 7th or 8th seed and a quick exit from the playoffs. At best.

    But I think they do have the potential for a bright future. Gortat is one of the top 15 centers in the NBA and has potential to be even better. Morris has the potential to at least be a great sixth man if not a starter. Price looks like a very good backup PG with the potential to maybe become a solid starter… not great but solid. Dudley has always been a very good backup SF. Frye is kind of weird but still valuable. His rebounding and defense have both improved even though his offense is down this year. I’d keep him as another backup at both the 4 and 5 unless a good trade opportunity pops up.

    Hill has a one year contract and I think he’s done after this year. I think he’ll retire. Steve will probably be back for another year or two and hopefully he will be a good mentor for Price or whoever the Suns sign to back him up. All of the other players with one year contracts are irrelevant unless one of them steps up this season and proves that he deserves more.

    Through the draft and whatever trades they can make, the Suns need to try to get talent at the 2, 3 and even the 4 spot but most of all they need someone who can create his own shots no matter what position he plays. And since this year’s draft should be especially deep, any trades that the Suns might make this season should try to bring in some draft picks instead of giving them away.

  • Zak

    @ Cam – You are right about D-will and Dwight Howard. The Suns have virtually no chance at signing either of them. Mark my words… at least one of them will wind up in Dallas next year… maybe both. Not likely but it is possible. Cuban has very deep pockets and doesn’t shy away from the luxury tax. Yeah, this year he’s kind of played it cheap in some ways but I think that’s because he wants to keep his options open next year to grab either D-will or Dwight Howard. Hopefully he doesn’t find a way to grab both!

  • Cam

    For some reason I thought Hill was on a 2 year deal, my bad. My twins are really doing a number on me today!

  • Salicorne

    good update but i DISAGREE with point 2. grant hill is shooting horrible this year and is a big reason for the poor record IMHO. old age happens to the best, sadly.

  • shazam

    @ zak i agree w/ everything you wrote except again maybe the value on nash…do we really need him mentoring someone for style that monopolizes the ball and only has a shot of working if you are only steve…bro hes so special what he does cant be taught..perfect bounce passes,50 percent shooting 90 percent f t …..we are better off with out 2 time…we lose more games setting us up for better lottery picks..we would have never won that game in ny if it wasnt for nash feeling all spry for a msg crowd and against mike and amare…..gortat and morris are the only real reasons to like the suns right now..and they are damn good reasons…mark my words suns fans ..i sais a few weeks ago that redd and morris will be starting soon..morris did and redd will with in 3 weeks and 4 days…goooooooo suns…looking forward to the old timers game tonight…they should make it official and have the players wear throw back jerseys :)

  • Cam

    I wouldn’t expect Nash to teach so much as be a bridge for a future PG. if the Suns draft a PG I would rather see him play limited minutes the first year before taking over the reigns from Nash. That works well as long as the front office doesn’t trade him before he gets an opportunity to start and show whether he has the ability to lead or not, ala Dragic. Go Suns.

  • shazam

    got it cam…i can go for that…sounds good

  • Zak

    @ shazam – I’m not saying that Nash is essential to mentoring a new PG but who else could be better to teach the art of passing? I believe you can’t unlearn defense so I doubt Steve’s mentoring would make anyone less of a defender. And I doubt the Suns will trade Steve. Not just because he puts butts into the seats at home games but because he only has one year left on his contract which would make him a one season “rental” for any team that wanted to trade for him… and expensive rental for one season. Steve will be a FA at the end of this season and there’s no way of knowing what happens then.

  • Zak

    @ Cam – Even though this year’s draft should be deep, it’s not a deep draft for PGs. That’s one of the reasons I expect Nash to be back in a Suns uniform next year. Hopefully with some talented young players that he can at least make one more run at a title with. Unlikely but I can still hope. :)

  • Cam

    I agree. I expect that the only way Nash doesn’t return is if he takes a deal from a team like NYC, not because the Suns don’t make him an offer similar to his last one. I think that the Suns will target a SG or SF in free agency and target the other need in the draft. I think this draft has more SF’s to choose from so getting Eric Gordon would be a big signing. SG’s are a premium in the NBA right now and he is Only going to get better. Go Suns.

  • shazam

    @ zak and cam…i guess to simplify my point(im always long winded)….the value of nash mentoring just hasnt been proven …no body has come from under his wing with much to show for it…and as far as him being a bridge as we find and develop others…well i hate to admit this but uhhhhm i want the suns to lose…so we can start drafting new players to pull for…my reason for hoping for loses the next couple of years is because i agree w/ u2 that we dont have a shot at really good free agents…its not full proof (never said any biz model is full proof when players can get injured so easy)…the draft is the only shot we have…especially because rooks are cheap and the suns(wont say sarver by name even tho hes the one who signs the checks or lately doesnt sign the checks) but lets face it..hmmmm how do i word this not to send steve into an irrational defense of the check cutter…uhhhhm well, lets just say…oh never mind…all of us but 1 get it

  • Gosuns

    But see Shazam, there in lies the problem, the main reason people think big time agents are interested in coming to phx which it proved last year is that they are no longer the elite or contending for a championship, if the suns have a good season they’re more likely to attract bigger free agents

  • Cam

    Its a catch 22. Elite FA won’t come to the Suns because the team isn’t contending. The team isn’t contending because it can’t lure any big time FA to sign here. Looks like the draft and trades are the only way the Suns really have a chance to become relevant again. That is, unless the front office finds it in their hearts to throw ludicrous amounts of money at Eric Gordon and another second tier FA like Nicolas Batum. Front load the hell out of the contracts so that all other offers just dont make sense for Gordon and Batum ( or whomever they decide to pursue). Go Suns.

  • steve

    I think you’re selling gortat short by calling him top 15. He’s top 5, in my opinion. Howard, gasol (pau), Duncan, maybe bynum, maybe marc, maybe nene, maybe chandler… Outside of the obvious top 2 (Howard and pau) I think a good case can be made for gortat as the next guy on that list. 24 and 12 tonight. He’s in beast mode and I couldn’t be more excited about his future.

  • steve

    Also, if anyone doesn’t think the check cutter isn’t willing to pay free agents big time money, what do you call shaq? I hate defending someone I don’t even like, but you’re such a buffoon I just can’t let it slide.

  • steve

    Sorry for the double negative (and the triple post). You know what I was trying to say. Anybody know the last time the suns won a game while scoring fewer than 80 points?

  • Scott

    The game went well … IMO, mainly because the Suns’ 2nd unit outscored the Celtics’ 2nd unit. It’s been a while since the Suns could rely on their 2nd unit … basically, not since Frye and Dudley both played for the 2nd unit … which they did again tonight.

    Telfair also looked much better playing with a bench unit that had some tools.

  • Tony


    not to rehash the same tired old argument, but Sarver did not take on much additional salary getting Shaq as he sent Marion in return to the Heat. Furthermore, the following season, Sarver, once again a typical Sarver move, gave Shaq away for nothing to the Cavs since when they received Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovich in return, Sarver bought them out to save money. So before you call Shazam a buffoon, I suggest you get your facts right.

  • steve

    So, signing the highest paid player in the NBA and then giving him away for free makes someone cheap?

    I think the whole process of sending Shaq away was completely botched, don’t get me wrong, but I fail to see how my argument about Shaq is invalidated because the Suns spent big money on the highest paid player in the NBA, then gave him away for nothing (actually, less than nothing since they bought out the aforementioned contracts). I wasn’t trying to defend the move in any way. I was just trying to point out the fact that calling Sarver cheap and saying he would rather spend his money on rookies (because of the cheaper contracts) is completely and totally inaccurate. If anything, the Suns (during Sarver’s tenure) have been proven to overspend on veterans and shy away from rookies, the exact opposite of what Shazam said.

    Again, I’m not saying that is a GOOD thing by the front office, I’m just saying shazam is dead wrong (it’s not like everyone didn’t know that already, but whatever).