No day at beach as Celtics fail to shine in 1st loss
The Phoenix Suns played their style of basketball last night. And, for much of the game, the Celtics did the same thing. The result was a 110-103 Suns’ victory, ending the Celtics’ six-game winning streak to start the season.
Steve Nash (12 assists) directed the show and Jason Richardson (34 points, 10 rebounds) played a starring role as the Suns got into their comfort zone, transitioning and firing up 3-pointers (hitting 13 of 24). Phoenix (5-1), in the midst of a five-game road trip and nearly 3,000 miles from home, acted like they were performing before a friendly, sun-soaked, Maricopa County crowd.
And the Celtics (6-1) seemed like the team running on empty, their concentration lagging in the late going, their second unit failing to provide backup for the first time this season, the home fans unable to provide a boost.
“The game plan was go to the post, drive the basketball,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought we did that for a while, then we got away from that. The game turned into more of their pace. The thing I didn’t like was, with about 3 1/2 minutes left, instead of searching for wide-open twos that we had, we went into three mode. And I didn’t think we had to do that. Several times we could have got to the basket for a quick two and we passed up twos for threes and that’s uncharacteristic for us.’’
Rivers pointed to the glut of early games - the Celtics will play their eighth in 12 days when they visit New Jersey tonight.
“We’re tired right now, but they are, too,’’ Rivers said. “Everybody’s going to go through this stretch at some point, we just happened to go through it early. We knew when we looked at the schedule it was going to be a tough stretch and let’s see how many games we can squeeze out and win.’’
But the Celtics might have been in a better position down the stretch if they had not lost Ray Allen (7 for 11 shooting, 16 points in 31 minutes) to foul trouble. Neither Allen nor Marquis Daniels were able to slow down Richardson, but Allen might have been able to keep pace with Richardson offensively.
The Celtics misfired at the foul line - they were 9 for 18 on free throws. And the Celtics’ 3-point touch left them when they needed it - Rasheed Wallace missed all six of his (he was 0 for 5 in the final quarter).
The Celtics got within 2 points twice in the third quarter. Both times, the Suns countered with 3-pointers, by Grant Hill and Channing Frye. Daniels entered the contest after Allen committed his fourth foul, a questionable charge that Nash drew, negating a transition score 2:39 into the second half.
A Kevin Garnett jumper cut the deficit to 69-67 with 7:45 remaining in the quarter. Then, Frye’s 3-pointer started a 13-6 Phoenix run over a 2:57 span, Nash’s driving hoop raising the advantage to 82-73 with 4:26 left. The Celtics cut the deficit to 85-83 on Wallace’s turnaround with 1:52 remaining, then had a chance to close in. But Rajon Rondo (14 points, 11 assists) missed two foul shots with 4.6 seconds remaining and a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Celtics would not get any closer.
Richardson hit his first three shots of the final quarter. The Celtics’ second unit failed to click, and the starters began returning with 7:45 remaining. Daniels’s 19-footer pulled the Celtics within 87-85 with 11:03 left, but they went scoreless for the next 4:18.
Richardson’s three started a 9-point Suns’ run, Jared Dudley’s back-door move stretching their lead to 96-85 with 7:54 remaining.
The Celtics got within 98-94 with a 9-2 run, then Allen dunked following a Frye 3-pointer. Amar’e Stoudemire’s baseline jumper gave Phoenix a 103-96 edge with 3:08 remaining. And the Celtics soon abandoned their post game, with Wallace going to the perimeter and Kendrick Perkins going to the bench.
“I thought all night, instead of running them off the line, we stopped short and allowed them to shoot the three,’’ said Paul Pierce, who hit 5 of 15 shots and scored 16 points. “Even knowing that they are a 3-point shooting team. That’s their system, that’s the situations they put you in, and it worked to their advantage. Just a step slow on defense.’’
Even when the Celtic defense cracked down, it was too late. Pierce blocked a Nash shot, but the ball went back to Nash, who drew Allen’s fifth foul, then hit a free throw for a 104-98 Phoenix lead with 2:41 to go.
Nash answered a Garnett layup with a 3-pointer, making it 107-100 with 50.9 seconds on the clock. Then, Stoudemire blocked Rondo and Wallace missed a 3-pointer, tossing his headband in frustration.
“The game was fast, I will admit that,’’ said Garnett, who scored a team-high 26 points. “We knew that, coming into this game, it wasn’t going to be lock it up, you know. At some point you have to adapt to the pace. Overall, I thought that, when it came down to it, they made shots and we didn’t. They shot a lot of threes, got to the line, and we didn’t, so that’s the difference, there.’’