EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns unable to reach Boston Celtics’ heights again in road loss

Mar 14, 2024, 7:00 PM | Updated: 8:00 pm

Derrick White #9 of the Boston Celtics defends Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns  during the seco...

Derrick White #9 of the Boston Celtics defends Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns during the second quarter at TD Garden on March 14, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns were in the way of an engaged, spirited response from the Boston Celtics after the initial meeting between the two teams on Saturday, a Celtics win.

Boston on Thursday stepped up the physicality and its play through that. And it was the difference in a 127-112 Suns loss.

Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had a downhill mentality all night to get to the basket while Boston’s defense was hands-on and physical. The Suns tried their best to match this but ultimately couldn’t do so within the confines of what was established in the game, with the usual exchange of Phoenix’s dismay at the officiating within this effort to meet Boston at that point.

While there of course was some bad inside the Suns’ first half, they played very well and managed to be within five. Phoenix used a 15-3 edge in second-chance points to hang close despite the Celtics knocking down 12 3s. It was a winnable game in that sense, especially with Devin Booker back after he missed Round 1.

But all it took was the Suns just missing a few good looks in the first three minutes and change of the second half to be down 14 via a 14-5 run, positioning themselves in an uphill battle the rest of the night.

Boston kept knocking down triples, with its 19th of the game coming with 2:45 left in the third quarter to extend the lead to 20. The Celtics’ ability to generate those looks is unmatched and the Suns couldn’t prevent enough from at least not being open shots. Boston did this without Kristaps Porzingis (hamstring) again and Al Horford in his place (a 40% 3-point shooter this year) hit six of Boston’s 25 3s.

Some will say this is just today’s NBA, that when a team drills that many 3s, that’s all that matters. It was the deciding factor, yes, but Phoenix’s execution and engagement from the first half dropped off in the third period. It became formulaic and clinical for Boston.

It is the ceiling of this Suns team we have yet to see. They have not gone blow for blow with an elite team playing like just that 66 games into the year. The first half was the closest they’ve gotten.

Kevin Durant picked up where he had left off recently with 15 points in the first quarter before shooting 1-of-9 from the field in the middle quarters. Again, if his shot-making doesn’t drop off and someone like Devin Booker (9-for-20) has a better shooting night, this is a game. The expected 18 Celtics points off 14 Suns turnovers is another area that could have been cleaned up more to make this more competitive heading into crunch time instead of the Celtics leading by 17 with under five minutes to go.

For the fourth time this season, Bradley Beal has found the sweet spot with his impact. Beal’s in a difficult spot playing alongside two superstars. Contributing to winning looks different for him compared to the rest of his career given how often he will be on the ball. This is the best his aggression has been all year in regards to consistently driving and on Thursday especially you could see him attempting to not overthink it by just taking more shots.

He finished with 22 points and seven assists. Beal was without Durant to open the second and fourth quarters so Durant could be on Booker’s schedule, and with how he is playing, that’s actually somewhat doable now. The key now is for Beal to remain healthy so he can grow off it in a way he wasn’t able to at other points this season when he found a good rhythm shortly before getting hurt again.

The 24 Suns second-chance points were thanks to a team-wide effort to grab 19 offensive rebounds, led by Jusuf Nurkic’s seven for 20 overall. He added eight points and six assists.

Tatum was excellent in the first half with 23 of his 26 points. Brown was fabulous all game long with a game-high 37.

A positive development off the Suns bench was a 10-point night for Bol Bol, who wasn’t quite slumping as of late but needed Thursday’s performance when he began the contest 4-for-4.

In the late third quarter, Booker landed on a Boston defender’s foot. He was moving OK the rest of the game but it’s something to keep in mind with Phoenix playing in Charlotte on Friday.

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