Devin Booker

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

Well, the losing didn’t last very long. 

The Celtics shook off their second loss of the season from 24 hours earlier and came away with a solid 99-85 win in Phoenix led by Jayson Tatum’s 26-point, 11-rebound performance for his second double-double of the season. 

It was relatively close until the Celtics closed out the second quarter with a 20-4 run to lead 57-42 at the half. 

Boston (11-2) continued to pull away in the second half in what was a surprisingly cushy win over a Suns team that had won five of its past seven and was playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. 

However, the victory could be bittersweet if Marcus Smart is lost for an extended period with an ankle sprain suffered in the fourth quarter, although postgame comments from Smart and coach Brad Stevens make it sound as if the injury was not as severe as it looked. Smart left after scoring 17 points to go with four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Boston’s success on Monday was similar to what they had done in their 10-game winning streak but wasn't apparent in their 100-99 loss in Sacramento on Sunday, a game in which Smart’s potential game-winning shot hung on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before rolling out as time expired. 

On Monday, the Celtics’ defense forced turnovers early on, which took the Suns out of running their offense as efficiently as they are accustomed to. And that kept Devin Booker, who came in having averaged more than 42 points against the Celtics, from ever getting into any kind of rhythm. 

It was a quality win over a quality opponent on the road, a victory that came about by Boston getting back to doing the things that had allowed them to run off their impressive winning streak. 

Here are a few more takeaways: 

MARCUS SMART

We often talk about Marcus Smart as being the heart and soul of this team. It’s hard to imagine anyone being more locked into Monday night than Smart, who knew he had to lead the defensive focus on limiting the high-scoring Booker. Still, as we’ve seen with Smart this season more than any other, he’s intent on showing he can impact the game at both ends of the floor. In addition to leading the defensive efforts, Smart also had a strong game scoring with 17 points. However, the ankle injury makes him questionable for Wednesday against the Clippers in Los Angeles.

DEFENDING BOOKER

Considering how Booker has torched the Celtics for an average of 42.5 points in the previous four games against them, the Celtics had to feel really good about limiting him to just 20 points. And they did so with a multitude of defenders coming at Booker from a multitude of angles via double-teams, triple-teams, tilting in his direction … if it involved defense, chances are high that the Celtics tried it at some point in limiting Booker. Whether Smart is available Wednesday or not, the Celtics will have to employ a similar all-hands-on-deck approach defensively if they are to somehow limit the Clippers’ two best players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

CELTICS BENCH 

This group doesn’t score a ton of points, but they are starting to make the most of their chances to impact what matters most to the Celtics - winning. Brad Wanamaker continues to be their most consistent guard off the bench, scoring 10 points to go with six assists and three steals. Grant Williams, who picked up his first DNP-CD (Did not play- coach's decision) in the loss in Sacramento, maxed out his opportunity to play with four points, two blocks and a slew of hustle plays that Boston absolutely needed from him tonight. The C's also got solid contributions from Robert Williams and Carsen Edwards. 

FIRST-HALF KEMBA

It has been well documented how Kemba Walker has struggled offensively in the first half of most games this season. 

Not Monday.

The Celtics got late-game Kemba, in the first half for a change. He wound up with 19 points, 13 of which came in the first half on 6-for-11 shooting with all five of his misses coming from 3-point range.  

The Celtics really needed Walker to put his imprint on the game early so they could get off to a good start, establish control of the game and pull away in the end. 

“I try to come out and make the right plays,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin after the win.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Four things you need to know about tonight's Celtics-Suns matchup

Four things you need to know about tonight's Celtics-Suns matchup

Coming off their first loss since the season opener nearly a month ago, all eyes will be on the Boston Celtics as they try to get back to their winning ways tonight in Phoenix. 

A major headline going into the game is the reunion that Celtics players from last season's squad will have with their former teammate and now current Phoenix center, Aron Baynes. 

But there’s a lot more to this game than just that.

With that said, here are four things you need to know about tonight’s matchup. 

1. DEVIN BOOKER

We all remember how he absolutely torched the Celtics a couple years ago for a career-high 70 points. But that’s just one of several games in which Booker has dominated the Celtics like no one has. 

In his last four games against Boston, Booker has averaged an eye-popping 42.8 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field (61-for-122), 87.5 percent (35-for-40) from the free throw line and 35 percent (14-for-40) from 3-point range. 

Forget about limiting him from scoring. 

How about keeping him under 50 points?

2. NO PASSING FANCY

The Suns have done a good job all season of keeping teams on the move defensively with all their ball movement. Through the first 11 games, the Suns are averaging a league-best 28.8 assists per game. 

Phoenix’s ability to effectively probe defenses has allowed them to work the shot clock and get good, quality looks with little time left to shoot. 

This season, NBA.com/stats show that the Suns are shooting 33.3 percent from 3-point range when there’s four seconds or less on the shot clock which is the fourth-best mark in the league this season. The Celtics are at the opposite end of that category, connecting on just 20 percent of their shots with four seconds or less on the shot clock, which ranks 21st in the NBA. Boston has been at its best shooting with 15-18 seconds on the shot clock, connecting on a league-best 52.4 percent of its shots within that time frame. 

That ball movement has a way of wearing teams down over the course of a game, which makes tonight’s matchup for the Celtics even more daunting when you factor in it coming on the second night of a back-to-back. 

3. RICKY RUBIO

In what’s turning out to be one of the sneaky-good offseason signings, Ricky Rubio seems to have finally found a basketball home and success with it. The veteran guard, who signed a three-year, $51 million deal after leaving Utah, has had a solid career in Minnesota as well as the last two years with the Jazz, but he never displayed the kind of consistency we have seen thus far with the Suns both in terms of his own individual play and that play fitting in with the team’s success. 

The 29-year-old Rubio is averaging a career-high 13.6 points per game as well as 6.3 rebounds (also a career high) and 8.7 assists while shooting a career-best 37.5 percent from 3-point range. 

Rubio’s ability to be that savvy, veteran playmaker has taken a good chunk of the running of the offense off the shoulders of Devin Booker, who can instead focus on what he needs to do in order to help the Suns win — which is score the ball and be a solid defender. 

And with Rubio’s 6-foot-3 frame with defensive skills that seem to keep getting better with time, the Suns also reap the benefits of having a solid defender in the backcourt with Booker, too. 

4. OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE KEYS

Boston’s defense has shown some slippage lately, something they will have to clean up against a Phoenix team with lots of high-impact, difference-makers on offense. And when you look at these two teams, it’s clear that three specific categories will go far in determining who wins tonight’s game.

Points off turnovers: Phoenix averages a league-best 22.2 points off of turnovers this season. They’ll look to continue along those lines against a Celtics defense that allows a league-low 13.1 points off of turnovers this season.

Fast break points: Phoenix is one of the best fast-break teams in the NBA, evident by them averaging 16.3 fast-break points which ranks fourth in the league. Meanwhile, Boston allows opponents to score 12.3 fast-break points per game, which ranks eighth in the NBA.

Points in the paint: And when it comes to points in the paint, the Suns once again score high marks with a 49.6 points in the paint per game average, which ranks 10th in the league. And once again, Boston’s defense may be the answer to limiting those points in the paint. Teams are averaging 42.8 points in the paint against Boston, which is the third-fewest mark of any team in the league now. 

C's get rough marks in Forsberg's Report Card>>>>>

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

A. Sherrod Blakely's NBA Power Rankings: Suns rise, Sixers soar

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USA TODAY Sports photo

A. Sherrod Blakely's NBA Power Rankings: Suns rise, Sixers soar


BOSTON -- It didn’t take long for Devin Booker to establish himself as one of the best scorers in the NBA. The Celtics know how prolific he can be when it comes to getting buckets.

It was just a couple years ago that he torched the Celtics for 70 points, prompting some Boston players to grumble about him being a little too locked into scoring. 

He’s still one of the game’s best at getting points, evident by him averaging 26.1 points per game, which, if he can maintain that for the rest of the season, would be a career-high. 

Still, Booker is showing that he’s more than just a walking point-producer. 

The Suns are winning a lot of games, knocking off some of the best teams in the process, including the Philadelphia 76ers, who were handed their first loss of the season by the Suns. 

Booker's growth into a better all-around player has been essential to Phoenix’s improved play which has them among our biggest risers in this week’s power rankings. 

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