Celtics need 4th-quarter run to hold off Suns, 116-111

Celtics need 4th-quarter run to hold off Suns, 116-111

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.



A night to forget in Chicago for C's

A night to forget in Chicago for C's

BOSTON – No Kyrie Irving. The fifth game in eight nights. Chicago getting Nikola Mirotic back.
There’s a long list of reasons one can surmise in trying to make sense of Boston’s 108-85 loss to the woeful Chicago Bulls on Monday.


“They came out with more energy, more purpose,” Al Horford told reporters after the loss. “We probably needed more sense of urgency.”
He’s right.
At no point in the game did the Celtics play with the kind of desperation needed to be competitive, let alone emerge with a win.
The loss hurts but doesn’t have much of an impact on the team’s record (23-6) or position as the best team record-wise in the East.
Still, it serves as a stark reminder of what can happen when even the best of teams don’t play with some semblance of desperation – they can get crushed.
“Chicago dictated the whole game; they played harder than we did,” Stevens said. “They played with more presence than we did; played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”
Here are five other takeaways from the loss:

The 19-year-old had one of those back-to-earth moments on Monday. He delivered the kind of sub-par performance we have not seen from him this season, which is pretty amazing considering we’re more than a third of the way through the regular season. Tatum had a season-low four points, missing six of his seven shots along with all four of his 3-point attempts.


For most of the game, Chicago simply outworked Boston, which again is something we have not seen much of this season. And this was noticeable at both ends of the floor. Against the Bulls, Boston had a total of seven assists via screens. To put that in perspective, Aron Baynes had eight screen assists by himself in Sunday’s win at Detroit. And with so much length, the Celtics are accustomed to getting their hands on a lot of balls via deflections. Boston’s deflection total against the Bulls? Two. It was that kind of night for the Green Team.

No team wants to blame the schedule for a loss, but there are certain games in which the degree of difficulty to win is increased in part because of timing. Monday night's game was Boston’s fifth in eight days. No matter how talented or deep a team may be, such stretches of play eventually factor into a not-so-great performance. We’ve seen the Celtics have a few of these this season, but often found a way to muster up enough stretches of good play to escape with a win. But on Monday, they just couldn’t string together enough good plays at either end of the floor to swing the game’s momentum in their favor.

We have thought highly of Irving since he’s joined the Celtics, in large part because of what he does to impact winning. His sitting out Monday night to rest a sore quad muscle created a window of opportunity for his teammates. Instead, the game turned into a referendum on why Irving is an MVP candidate. This team without him, on Monday night at least, was horrible. If he does miss any more games, you can count on the Celtics playing much better than what we saw against Chicago. But in the meantime, they would just as soon leave the Irving-less games to hypothetical scenarios rather than being part of their reality.

There have been some who have debated whether Brad Stevens is the real MVP of this Celtics team and will use Monday’s loss as an example to debunk that notion. But here’s what you have to remember. A coaches’ game plan is only as good as the players are at executing it. And just like players will have a stinker game here and there over an 82-game regular season, the same goes for coaches. Stevens couldn’t find a matchup against Chicago that worked. And defensively, the players were a step slow most of the night no matter what Stevens called for them to do. Could Stevens have done a better job? Absolutely. He’ll be the first to tell you that. But this loss was more about the Celtics not playing with enough of a sense of urgency, which is a collaborative effort between Stevens and his players. They fell short of accomplishing that against the Bulls.

Celtics defense doesn't rise to occasion with Kyrie out vs. Bulls

Celtics defense doesn't rise to occasion with Kyrie out vs. Bulls

New experiences are a given when you have as many new faces as the Boston Celtics have this season.

Monday’s 108-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls?

Yup, that’s a new one.

You can rest assured the Celtics won’t dwell on this loss too long. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be forgotten quickly, either.


As the Boston Celtics piled up the wins this season (they still lead the East with a 23-6 record), head coach Brad Stevens has tried to keep his team humble, reminding them that if they don’t play well they can be beat by anybody … even the Bulls.

Even in defeat, Boston has managed to at least give themselves a shot at winning with good energy and effort from most if not every player that steps on the court.

“We have a young group, so we usually have a lot of energy,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown told reporters afterwards. “We just couldn’t find it tonight. We start off bad, we usually find a way to come back and rally into the game. We could just never get it going.”

Boston’s Al Horford echoed similar sentiments.

“Credit to our group. We go out, we fight every night,” Horford said. “And tonight, we pushed but they answered back. We never caught a break. There were times there, we could have had a three (3-pointer) and we missed it. And then they come down and hit a three. It was kind of like … one of those nights, everything was working their way. Gotta give them credit. They came out the aggressor. They held it and we didn’t have it tonight.”

Of course, the easy way to explain away what happened was to point out the impact of not having Kyrie Irving (quads injury).

While there’s no question not having the team’s top scorer has a negative impact on the team’s overall play, the Celtics are a team that’s rooted in strong defensive play which should have been on display against Chicago.

Instead of Boston’s defense taking the lead, they were a non-factor most of the night, especially when it came to Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis who had 24 and 23 points, respectively.

“We didn’t challenge Mirotic or Portis at all,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And they got to the rim whenever they wanted.”

Fortunately for the Celtics, they return home where they can try and get back on a winning track after losing two of their last three games.

“We have to respond against Denver (on Wednesday),” Brown said. “When we come back and play them, we should have more energy.”