BOSTON – Before the game Saturday afternoon against Phoenix, Brad Stevens talked about his affinity for early games, mostly because of its benefits for the kiddies.
Well, the early start seemed to be the liking of his relatively youthful roster with youngsters, like Jaylen Brown, getting off to good starts while the team’s closer – Kyrie Irving - sealed the 116-111 victory.
Irving had a team-high 19 points, which included a driving lay-up with 28.8 seconds to play that gave the Celtics a 112-106 lead.
The Celtics (20-4) are the first team in the NBA this season to reach the 20-win plateau while riding victories in four of their past six, which came on the heels of a 16-game winning streak.
Brown scored 10 of his 17 points in the first quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead, 31-22. His strong play continued in the second quarter, scoring six points in the quarter which tied for the team-high with Daniel Theis.
However, Boston’s lead going into the half was down to 60-54.
Phoenix came in having dropped 10 of its 15 losses this season by at least 10 points, so to be within single digits in the second quarter and a good chunk of the game was indeed an accomplishment of sorts for them.
But they weren’t looking for moral victories; not today at least.
An alley-oop dunk by Tyson Chandler from Devin Booker gave the Suns a 67-65 lead with 7:22 to play in the third.
Boston responded with a 24-12 run, which gave them an 89-79 lead going into the fourth.
The Celtics continued to surge ahead and led 96-81, only for Phoenix to respond with a 13-4 run capped off by a 3-pointer from former Boston College standout Jared Dudley.
After a Celtics timeout with 4:26 to play, rookie Jayson Tatum scored on a driving lay-up and followed that up with a blocked shot. Tatum was one of six double-figure scorers for Boston, joined by Irving, Horford (14 points), Marcus Morris (17 points) and Marcus Smart (13 points).
For most of the game, the Celtics made the necessary adjustments to whatever Phoenix tried to do, and in the process stymied the Suns' efforts to pull off an upset.
Phoenix opened with a 5-0 spurt, only to see Boston come back with a 16-5 run, capped off by a jumper Aron Baynes to make it a 16-10.
Keeping Phoenix in the game was Booker; the same Devin Booker who dropped 70 points – yes, 70 points – on the same TD Garden floor last season.
He wasn’t that prolific scoring in the first half, but there was no getting around the significant impact that his presence and play was having on the scoreboard. He would finish with 38 points after fouling out with 17.3 seconds to play and the Suns trailing 114-111.
Booker had 21 points in the first half, 15 of which came in the second quarter. He fouled out late in the fourth with 38 points.
Phoenix went ahead briefly in the third quarter by as many as three (71-68). But Boston responded with a 16-6 run capped off by Tatum draining a jumper over Josh Jackson, the Nos. 3 and No. 4 picks, in last June’s NBA draft.
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