PHOENIX (AP) — Blue boxing gloves draped over Channing Frye’s locker door as Jared Dudley roamed the room conducting interviews with his teammates. A chant of “Rocky! Rocky!” rang out as Frye exited the shower, followed by a version of the movie’s theme song as he grabbed the gloves and smiled.
If the Phoenix Suns were bothered by those blows from the Boston Celtics, even that one below the belt, they sure weren’t showing it.
A team long considered soft, the Suns didn’t back down against mighty Boston, dominating inside early and weathering a below-the-belt shot by Kevin Garnett to run over the Celtics 88-71 Friday night.
“We’re not a physical team, but we’re obviously strong mentally,” said guard Steve Nash, who orchestrated Phoenix’s offense with 13 points and 10 assists. “We continued to apply pressure and didn’t let them push us around.”
Phoenix overpowered Boston early behind Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez while building an 18-point lead, and didn’t back down late when Garnett was involved in a pair of altercations.
The first came early in the fourth quarter, when he and Mickael Pietrus had to be separated after a hard screen.
Boston went on a little run after that, but Garnett’s second run-in ended any hopes.
It happened with 4:07 left, when Garnett went out to challenge a 3-point attempt by Frye. Just like he did early in the game, Garnett got a little too close and was called for a foul when Frye came down on his foot.
This time, though, Garnett also reached out, striking Frye in the groin area. Frye grimaced and reached down as he went to the floor, but jumped up quickly and bumped faces with Garnett.
The two had to be separated and, after a long video review by the officials, Garnett was hit with two technical fouls – neither one for the initial blow — and was ejected. The 13-time All-Star was surprised by the call, but left the court after a short, relatively calm discussion with the officials.
Frye was hit for a technical for the bump, and Boston players Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins also were T’d up.
“I just didn’t think it was an appropriate play to make,” Frye said. “I don’t want to make a bigger deal than it is — the league will take care of that.”
Garnett, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, left without speaking to reporters, but his coach didn’t see anything wrong with the contact.
“That would only be the 20th time that it probably happened in the game,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who was ejected in the second quarter for arguing with official Steve Javie. “You see it all the time, guys poking at your stomach. If that is what happened, then he is really a tough guy.”
The late-game low blow marred what was a dominating performance by the Suns and a disappointing one by the Celtics.
The Suns got career highs of 19 points and 17 rebounds from Gortat and an 11-point night from Lopez. Vince Carter added 17 points and Pietrus gave Phoenix a boost off the bench with 11 points and a never-back-down attitude, going after Garnett after those two tangled in the fourth quarter.
The scoring is expected from the Suns. Playing rugged defense and refusing to get pushed around? That’s almost unheard of on Planet Orange.
“I’ve heard about how the Suns are soft,” Pietrus said after the Suns allowed their fewest points since 2001. “That’s not going to happen this year. We’re not going to be soft. I’m going to make sure when we come out on the floor, we’re going to come out hard.”
Boston was soft at the start.
Coming off a sometimes-rough win over Portland the night before, the NBA’s top-shooting team never found a rhythm offensively, scoring just 16 points in the first quarter to fall into a big hole. They couldn’t shoot their way out of it, either, hitting 34 percent and making just two of its 18 3-point attempts on their way to a season-low in points.
The Celtics were worse defensively, at least early, relegated to fouling Lopez and Gortat inside while giving the rest of the Suns one open shot after another. Gortat, who averages 5.9 points, scored 11 in 5 minutes and dropped in his second career 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Suns up 14 after the first quarter.
It never really got better.
The Celtics trailed 49-35 at halftime and got more bad news when forward Glen Davis, who averages 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds as a reserve, sat out the second half with a strained right hamstring.
Phoenix, which trailed just 22 seconds during the game, dominated the third quarter and Boston managed a short run in the fourth before Garnett’s ejection put an ugly exclamation on an ugly night.
“We kind of lost our composure when we tried to get back into the game,” said Boston’s Paul Pierce, who played through a sore ankle and knee to score 14 points. “Shots weren’t falling for us tonight. I don’t know if that was because of fatigue or not.”
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