A TD Banknorth Garden sellout crowd chanted, "M-V-P, M-V-P," to Kevin Garnett when he was at the free throw line in the fourth quarter last night. After the game, Garnett said teammate Paul Pierce should be the MVP. Together, they submitted a pair of MVP-type performances, combining for 57 points in the Celtics' 117-97 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Garnett scored a team-high 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from the line while dishing out six assists in 34 minutes. Pierce scored 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 9-of-9 from the line in 38 minutes. It was the first time two Celtics scored more than 25 points in the same game since Pierce and Ray Allen each had 26 in a 96-90 victory over Dallas Jan. 31.
"Honestly, I'm trying to block it out to make the free throws, which is kind of sad," said Garnett of the chants. "But my MVP [Pierce] is sitting next to me."
Pierce then tapped Garnett on the back of his head and said, "You're my MVP, too."
Pierce is averaging a team-high 20.1 points along with 5.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Garnett is averaging 19 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.
Other MVP contenders include Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, New Orleans guard Chris Paul, Cleveland forward LeBron James, Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire, and Orlando forward Dwight Howard. But considering that Garnett is widely considered the main reason Boston went from a 24-win team last season to the one with the NBA's best record this season, Pierce makes a compelling argument that Garnett's candidacy goes beyond statistics.
"The whole face of Celtics Nation turned around when the trade happened with this guy," Pierce said. "Everyone talks about the MVP and they talk about numbers, but this guy has changed the whole culture around here, and I think that says a lot for everything. The mentality, to a day-to-day aspect, everything is changed from a year ago."
The Celtics (56-15) snapped a two-game skid overall and a five- game losing streak to the Suns. Boston is now 13-1 against the mighty Western Conference at home and 25-5 overall. The Celtics' magic number to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs is five.
All five Celtics starters scored at least 13 points. Stoudemire scored a game-high 32, while teammate Boris Diaw added 15 off the bench.
"[The Celtics] are a great team 1 through 12," said Suns center Shaquille O'Neal, who scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds. "Against a team put together like this, you almost have to do everything right, especially here in this building. You have to do everything right."
The Suns entered second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 110.1 points per game. The Celtics, meanwhile, had held opponents to NBA lows of 90.4 points and a .419 field goal percentage. The Celtics actually limited the Suns to 85 points in their other meeting this season, in Phoenix Feb. 22, but lost after scoring a season-low 77.
Last night, the Celtics limited the Suns to 13 points below their average, forced them to miss 9 of 13 3-point attempts, and scored 30 points off 21 turnovers. Even with two-time MVP Steve Nash leading the break, the Suns were limited to 2 fast-break points. The Celtics outscored the Suns, 60-40, after being tied at 57 at halftime.
"We just didn't play well," said Suns coach Mike D'Antoni. "I don't know if it us or them, it doesn't really matter to me. I just know that we turned the ball over. Give them credit, they are a good basketball team, but it didn't seem to me that they were doing anything different in the second half than in the first half. We just didn't take care of the ball and didn't play well."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was impressed by how his team picked up its defense in the second half.
"[The Suns] were shooting 62 percent [in the first half], and you could hear the guys when we walked in [the locker room]: 'We need to do this, we need to do that.' And we said, 'We need to do what we've done all year,' " Rivers said. "We're making no [defensive] changes. And we were very stern; I was very stern about that. That we're not going to make a change; we're going to play our defense. And we didn't do that in the first half.
"And so we went over what they were doing, and we showed if we played our normal defense that we're able be a better team than trying to change. And they did that in the second half and they were all great at it."
With 1:46 remaining, Garnett and Pierce went to the bench during a timeout with the Celtics up, 114-94. Time will tell if either will get strong consideration for MVP. But as all the MVP talk was going on, Garnett made a point to bring up what was more important.
"We're trying to get a ring," he said.