The Suns were outmatched despite a huge rest advantage Monday night at home, falling to Boston, 99-85.
A few minutes prior to tip-off, the Suns got bad news when it was announced Ricky Rubio would sit out the game with back spasms. Jevon Carter got the nod to start.
Like many Suns games this year, things got off to a rocky start early as Phoenix’s physical style gummed up the Celtics’ plans on offense. Neither team could buy a shot outside of transition and putbacks.
Some players thrive playing that way. Celtics guard Marcus Smart has made a living making hay in games like these, so of course he showed up. Smart had 8 points in the first quarter.
On the Suns’ side, it was a little more spread around, but they couldn’t move the ball effectively enough to get good offense. With Rubio out, their bigs were initiating offense, which hurt the spacing and screening they typically provide for Rubio and Devin Booker.
When they did try to go outside in, Smart’s versatility hurt the Suns. They were unable to create easy baskets in the post three different times when Saric tried to post up Smart.
That allowed Boston to make a run to close the quarter (a recurring issue for Phoenix) and take the lead, 26-22, at the end of one.
Again, though, Kelly Oubre Jr. took over in the second period, tying the game at 34 with 7:09 remaining after a midrange jumper.
Coach Monty Williams left Oubre in and brought the rest of the starters back pretty early in the second quarter but the team still rode Oubre’s hot hand.
The energy that emanates from Oubre sparked a few moments later as he fought with Jaylen Brown for an offensive rebound and fell to the ground as Brown thrashed around. With Oubre on the ground, Brown went back to the cup and was met by Frank Kaminsky, who was called for a foul that felt a little bit like a make-up call for referees after allowing the physicality between Brown and Oubre.
Williams challenged the call on Kaminsky and it was over-turned. Boston was still nursing a four-point lead at that point thanks to continued stellar play by Smart.
Booker made matters worse by fouling Smart on a three-pointer a few moments later, while the Celtics again closed out strong as the quarter wound down, with Jayson Tatum dicing up Cam Johnson for four late points. After two, the Celtics led, 57-42.
Another missed layup from Saric opened up the second half, followed by a rare (this year) pull-up three by Booker as the Suns continued to take the ball out of Carter’s hands.
While the Celtics continued to move the ball around and try to get contributions from all of their perimeter talent, the Suns were able to take advantage. Phoenix got two steals en route to a 7-0 run that cut the lead to single digits, 61-52.
But they couldn’t take advantage. Each team was sluggish, though the Suns didn’t really have an excuse. Boston was coming off a back-to-back while the Suns rested for three days leading into this game. After cutting the lead to nine, though, the Suns recoiled and allowed Walker to bump the lead back up to double digits.
To make matters worse, Booker notched his fourth foul with about 6:00 to go in the third period. He sat, leaving the Suns without their two best players for a key 3:30 stretch.
Booker checked back in with 2:30 left in the third.
It looked for a second as if a Tyler Johnson block in transition early in the fourth might give the Suns a spark, but even that didn’t electrify the Suns, as Johnson himself followed up the block with a missed three.
Williams stuck with his starters down 17 with 9:00 to go following an injury timeout as Marcus Smart turned his ankle.
Marcus Smart turned his ankle taking an awkward step and had to be carried off. pic.twitter.com/EpMl4enPp8— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) November 19, 2019
In another world where the Suns didn’t allow the second quarter to get out of hand or they capitalized on their run to open the third period, they could have made a run in the fourth. But the lead was just too far out of reach. It was a game where the Suns needed a big run just to get within shouting distance of Boston, and didn’t have the juice to actually even up the score.
Booker made a few shots early in the fourth but Brad Wanamaker responded with a three to push the lead back to 17 with 6:12 remaining. Williams called a timeout.
A moment later, the Suns’ deep reserves took the floor as Williams waved the white flag.