Phoenix (8-24): 111– Boston (18-12): 103
Kyrie Irving: 29 PTS 5 REB 10 AST 4 STL 1 BLK
Marcus Smart: 12 PTS 4 REB 5 AST 4 STL
Jayson Tatum: 18 PTS 8 REB 1 STL 4 BLK
Devin Booker: 25 PTS 5 REB 8 AST 1 STL 2 BLK
DeAndre Ayton: 23 PTS 18 REB 1 STL
T.J. Warren: 21 PTS 5 REB 1 AST 2 STL
The Celtics came in undermanned Wednesday nigh as Al Horford was still sidelined with that knee injury, and then a few hours before game time, Marcus Morris was also ruled out with some knee soreness of his own. That left the Celtics relatively thin in the front court and about 2 minutes into the game, they got even thinner up front. Aron Baynes got tangled up with DeAndre Ayton and came away from it with a hand fracture and is expected to be out for about a month.
It was a big blow as Baynes can at least contain Ayton in the low post and as always gives the Celtics the luxury of being able to switch efficiently. An underrated part of Baynes’ game is his help defense and it was clearly missed last night. With Baynes out, the center responsibilities shifted over to Daniel Theis and Robert Williams. Robert had a solid night, finishing with 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 24 minutes of play. The issue for them came on the defensive end trying to deal with Ayton. He went 4-6 from the field against each Theis and Williams and the Celtics had nothing for him on the glass as he hauled in 18 rebounds, 8 of which were offensive rebounds.
Although they were shorthanded, the Celtics came out firing on all cylinders offensively, hanging 37 on the Suns in the first quarter, while shooting 70% from the field. Kyrie led the way with 7 points and 6 assists as he really got this offense going early on. They also ended the frame with 12 assists as a team in the quarter and it seemed like we’d be on our way to another 110+ night in the scoring column. Instead, the Celtics fell flat on their faces and shot an abysmal 34% from the floor and scored only 66 points the rest of the game. The Suns were riding high off of their recent 3-game winning streak and played with purpose all night long. They played hard and from what I’ve seen from the Suns this season, it was probably their best win of the whole year. When Booker, Ayton, and Warren are all clicking this team has so many options on offense. They can go outside with Booker, down low with Ayton, or let T.J. Warren create his own shot. It hasn’t happened much this season, but it did last night and I can really see the vision for this Suns team down the road.
The Suns took their first lead of the game in the second at 50-49 but the real turning point in the game came in the third. The Celtics went 4-20 from the field and were out-rebounded 18-11 and 7-2 on the offensive glass. The Suns got so many opportunities and any NBA team can get baskets when they’re getting 2nd and 3rd opportunities nearly every possession. The Suns took an 86-80 lead into the fourth quarter and things didn’t get any easier for the green.
Before they could even blink the Suns pushed the lead up to 13 at 97-84 after a 3 from Kelly Oubre in Marcus Smart’s face. The Celtics from there really struggled on offense as they couldn’t get into the paint effectively and couldn’t find the mark from deep. As we’ve seen, when they aren’t hitting shots this offense has to be one of the most frustrating to watch in the league. It was some ugly basketball but late in the game after a corner three from Smart the Celtics saw themselves down 103-98 with 2 minutes left. This is where disaster ensued as Smart fouled T.J. Warren on a 3 in the corner, he hit all three free throws, and then on the next possession Oubre iced the game with a three and some kisses to the crowd. An overall fitting ending to a frustrating night of basketball for the Celtics as they ultimately fell 111-103.
Rebounding is a key stat to circle in this one as the Celtics were obliterated by Phoenix as they outrebounded them by a mark of 56-37 and 21-9 in terms of offensive rebounds. This led to 20 2nd chance points for the Suns and gave them a clear advantage. This was one of the areas where the Celtics really missed Baynes, Morris, and Al. Brad was forced to go with smaller lineups and consistently didn’t have an answer for Ayton down low. While injuries are indeed hurtful, the effort overall was still concerning against such a poor team at home.
Player of the Game: DeAndre Ayton
Ayton was a man among boys in this one. He was relentless on the glass and whenever he got the ball within 5 feet of the hoop you had a feeling he was putting it in. His moves are so polished in the paint for a young big man and to couple that with his rebounding ability is a scary combination. To put his rebounding into perspective, he had 1 less offensive rebound than the entire Celtic team. If that isn’t establishing yourself on the glass, then I don’t know what is. He had a dominant performance and was the clear frontrunner for player of the game.
Back at it Friday night 12/21 in a marquee matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks (21-9) at home starting at 8:00 PM ET.