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Suns 79, Celtics 71

Celtics a few shades worse than Suns

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By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 21, 2012
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Earlier this week, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo reversed roles, Pierce taking on the playmaking duties Wednesday as the Celtics broke a five-game losing streak by beating Toronto.

The strategy might have helped prepare the Celtics playing without Rondo. But that existence is likely to be a low-scoring one, judging by the Rondo-less Celtics’ 79-71 loss to the Phoenix Suns last night.

Rondo (right wrist) missed his first game of the season, as the team scored its lowest point total at home since Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett came to Boston in 2007.

Avery Bradley replaced Rondo, whose status for a visit to Washington tomorrow has not been determined. The second-year guard defended well against the Suns’ Steve Nash, but the Celtics’ offense virtually ground to a halt because of lack of direction, as well as a nonexistent transition game.

The Celtics, though, got the game going at their pace after halftime, making defensive stops, and following Pierce’s lead in taking the lead late in the third quarter.

But, then, the Celtics seemed to lose focus after going up, 55-52, bogging down with a 6:03 scoreless streak as Phoenix regained control.

“It’s funny, they’re a running team, but they didn’t want to run, either,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “They used the clock 23 seconds every possession, it felt like. And that slowed the game down. But they were making half their shots, so it turned the game into - I mean, it was a snail pace. And that hurt us, as well.’’

Rivers said the Celtics’ “offense is awful. You know, it’s funny, even at halftime, we had a ton of open shots, but they’re still all jump shots. Nothing in the paint, no drives, and that part you can say is Rondo.’’

Bradley helped hold Nash to 11 points, generally disrupting the Suns’ halfcourt offense on the perimeter.

“I thought he played fine,’’ Rivers said of Bradley. “I actually wanted him to be a little more aggressive. Avery, defensively was, I thought, terrific. I thought he worked as hard as you could work on Nash. I thought Avery did a terrific job offensively. He doesn’t see stuff, but he ran the team as much as he could.’’

But Marcin Gortat (24 points, 12 rebounds) capitalized on the Celtics’ lack of inside defense.

Gortat scored 14 points in the opening quarter on 7 for 11 shooting (4 for 4 lefthanded). Gortat converted 14 consecutive Sun points, personally outscoring the Celtics, 14-4, over a 5:51 span.

The Celtics’ flawed execution showed as the Suns upped the lead to 46-35 at halftime as Grant Hill made a layup off a steal out of a Celtics timeout.

The Celtics started the second half with an 18-4 run, regaining the lead, 53-50, on Mickael Pietrus’s 3-pointer with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter. But the Celtics would convert only one more field goal over the next 7:32 spanning the final quarters.

The Suns went on a 12-0 run, Shannon Brown’s jumper giving them a 64-55 lead 1:49 into the final quarter. E’Twaun Moore, relieving Bradley, struggled early in the fourth quarter, the Celtics then going to Pierce at the point.

Bradley returned to convert a jumper with :01 on the shot clock off an in-bounds play, cutting the deficit to 64-57 with 8:14 left in the game. Brandon Bass’s jumper pulled the Celtics within 5 points of the lead with 6:57 remaining, but the Celtics would get no closer.

Jared Dudley upped the Phoenix lead to 76-66 with a 3-pointer with 1:39 remaining. Garnett then scored off a Pierce feed and Pietrus’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to 76-71 with 56.9 seconds left. Gortat and Nash then closed things out with free throws.

“I told our guys this is more of me and the staff,’’ Rivers said. “We’ve got to figure out something with our offense.

“We should be better than that, in my opinion. And I always say that’s on me. If one guy doesn’t play, we should be able to play through that.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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