Celtics Show How to Beat Gentry's Suns
Sunday against the Celtics, the answer was a resounding "no." Led by a career-high 32 points from Rajon Rondo, Boston made 63 percent of its field goals on the way to a 128-108 victory in Phoenix.
Very early on, however, it looked like this would be another game that the Suns would run away with. They opened the game with a 9-4 spurt in the first 2:30, where they got four layups and forced the Celtics into two quick turnovers. An uncharacteristic early timeout from Doc Rivers seemed to fix things, though, and fix them for good.
"We weren't doing what we were supposed to do," Rivers said. "We were going to get blown out, the way we were playing the beginning of that game. These afternoon games, you can't ease into them. And they know, I never use that [20-second timeout], because I want it to end the quarters or end the half. But it was needed, it was used, and it was a good one for us."
The Celtics turned things around quickly from there, and were able to put up 38 points in the first quarter and take a five-point lead after one quarter. And honestly, things couldn't have gone much worse for Phoenix.
Boston shot over 81 percent from the field in the opening period, with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen doing most of the damage. The pair combined for 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting -- all in the first quarter. The Suns managed to hit on just 46 percent of their shots in the period, and the way they gave up so many easy looks on the other end, that wasn't going to cut it.
It was more of the same in the second quarter.
Boston extended its lead to 68-54 by halftime, and while their shooting from the field cooled a bit, they got red hot from the free throw line. The Celtics made 10 of their 13 foul shots in the quarter, and had 27 free-throw attempts to just 16 for the Suns at the break.
Speaking of free throws, the game was poorly officiated all afternoon long, but not necessarily in the Celtics' favor. All the booing from the Suns' home crowd came from the fact that almost every 50-50 call (like say, a block/charge situation) seemed to go Boston's way. For a team that prides itself on being so quick offensively, the Suns are extremely slow when it comes to defense. The veterans have trouble staying in front of their man or fighting through screens, and the help comes late or not at all -- so they end up fouling.
The Suns battled in the second half, twice cutting the lead to nine points. But each time, the Celtics responded by hitting big shots -- one from Rondo in the third, and a three-pointer from Allen early in the fourth that seemed to spark Boston on the run that they used to put the game away.
While Rondo and Allen did most of their damage in the first half, Paul Pierce got involved in the second. He had 18 points after the break, and besides the fact that his neck was bothering him, he didn't need to score when his teammates were doing just fine on their own.
"The crick in my neck loosened up a little bit [after halftime]," Pierce said. "I couldn't all the way turn to the right. But you've got to understand, Ray had it going, Rajon had it going, and we just fed off of them, that's all it was. I just tried to pick up some of the slack in the second half."
The Celtics provided a solid blueprint on Sunday for how teams can beat this 2.0 edition of the Phoenix Suns. You push the tempo back at them, but not in a Nellie-ball, score-at-all-costs kind of way. The key is to fast break when the opportunity is there, but if not, run your sets and take high percentage shots -- and then make them. Help defense is nonexistent with this Suns' squad; they're trying to outscore people. Phoenix leads the league in field-goal percentage by shooting an average of over 50 percent per game, but it's not enough when they're capable of giving up over 60 percent like they did against Boston. And, don't forget to crash the boards -- something that Doc Rivers said he told his team about before the game.
"One of the things watching the [Suns play Oklahoma City] the other night was the thought of, you could get offensive rebounds against them, because they're trying to run," Rivers said. "So on shots, they were actually going back on the offensive end, and we told our bigs to just hang around."
It was Rondo's birthday on Sunday, and he certainly played like it. His career high of 32 points came on 13-of-18 shooting, and he also dished out 10 assists. I asked him if playing in this type of uptempo game was the cause of his huge day, and predictably, he's a big fan of the style.
"I love the style of play, the way they play," Rondo said. "I think that's to my advantage because I'm an up-tempo-type point guard. I love to play against the Phoenix Suns."
Considering the fact that Rondo was the fourth player to get his career high against the Suns this season -- and one of seven or eight total who have had monster games against Phoenix -- I think that, win or lose, there are probably plenty of players that share that same sentiment.