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Suns 116, Celtics 98

Celtics popped again

Banged-up team is belted by Suns

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 31, 2009

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PHOENIX - Celtics coach Doc Rivers is banking that nights like these are a rare occurrence when his team is completely healthy.

Already without Paul Pierce in the lineup, Rivers knew he was putting his team in an unenviable position last night by sitting Kevin Garnett because of a hyperextended right knee, and his squad played like it was missing two All-Stars.

The Suns ran off 16 straight points in the first quarter and staved off minor Celtics rallies for the final 36 minutes as Boston was handed its third consecutive loss, 116-98, in front of 18,422 at US Airways Arena.

Garnett was taken out of the starting lineup after being kicked in his surgically repaired knee Monday night against the Clippers and then laboring Tuesday night against Golden State. That left the Celtics with a hardly imposing lineup against the streaking Suns, and Phoenix had 100 points by the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Rivers scowled at the injury excuse and still appeared angry over the last-minute losses to the Clippers and Warriors on what turned into a terrible trip.

“I expected to win,’’ he said. “I think we play everybody. As long as you do, you have to come in with the expectation to win. I didn’t like the way we started the first six minutes of the game. I thought we didn’t have that [winning] thought in our mind.’’

The Suns’ Amar’e Stoudemire scored 26 points, 18 in the first quarter. But the difference was Channing Frye, who poured in 26 points and hit six 3-pointers. Seemingly every time the Celtics got within single digits, Frye would drain a trey. And without Garnett, the Celtics were handicapped defensively.

Phoenix shot 50.6 percent and consistently broke down Boston’s timid defense for easy baskets.

“We just didn’t talk out there,’’ forward Tony Allen said. “We saw everything that coach [Tom] Thibodeau showed us. We didn’t talk . . . We missed guys, but we are still supposed to go out there and do our defensive assignments.’’

Celtics center Kendrick Perkins picked up his 10th technical by barking at official Zach Zarba, and it was a frustrating night for the big man. The Celtics had just cut the deficit to 48-39 and Perkins’s technical changed the momentum. Afterward, arena security was called to prevent Perkins and other Celtics from approaching Zarba. Issues with officials have become a common occurrence lately for Boston.

Steve Nash hit the technical free throw and then followed with an 8-footer and the Celtics never would get closer than 9.

It was Perkins’s second technical of the road trip, and Rivers is unhappy with the maturity level of his center.

“He’s just got to get better,’’ the coach said. “He’s got to grow up.’’

Neither Rasheed Wallace nor Brian Scalabrine could defend Frye, who causes problems because of his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

With Garnett gone and Pierce still out with a knee infection, the Celtics were blown out for the first time this season. Ray Allen is struggling with his shot and finished 4 for 13 for 15 points. Boston tried to rally with the 3-pointer, but Allen and Wallace were a combined 1 for 9 from deep, a testament to their long-range-shooting issues.

And Rajon Rondo, who had 30 points and 15 assists Tuesday night, was hobbled by a strained left hamstring and scored 13 points with eight assists in 32 minutes. He lacked his usual explosiveness.

“He’s to the point where he can go out and dominate the game on one leg,’’ Rivers said. “And he did that at times.’’

The Celtics were run ragged in the first period after having raced to a 12-8 lead. Phoenix scored the next 16 points, 8 by Stoudemire, to jump to a 24-12 lead, and the Celtics were in rally mode the rest of the game.

Stoudemire torched Perkins and Wallace for those 18 points in the period as the Suns outworked the Celtics in the paint. Phoenix easily won the rebounding battle through three quarters, 34-24, when the game was still competitive.

Without Rondo being able to drive into the paint, Boston was relegated to shooting jumpers or dumping the ball in to Perkins. As much as he is trying to control his emotions, Perkins has been surly of late and his frustration boiled over with the technical.

Perkins finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes but he missed four free throws. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was getting Stoudemire into foul trouble. The Phoenix big man picked up his third midway through the second quarter, allowing the Celtics to reduce the deficit to 56-47 after a Ray Allen layup with 42.2 seconds left.

A Perkins jumper sliced the lead to 9 again in the third period, but Phoenix responded with a 15-4 run - 6 points by Stoudemire - and the Suns led, 77-57. Rivers emptied the bench in the fourth quarter, using the final minutes as a glorified practice. Not quite the way the Celtics envisioned this trip after their impressive Christmas Day win over Orlando.

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