By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics lost to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. The seven-win Phoenix Suns. At home.
There is no excuse for yet another disappointing loss to a lesser opponent. Not at home. Not after having four days rest. Not after their eight-game win streak was snapped last time out.
No excuse, even if there were a few “built-in” excuses. They were playing without their best player this season, forward Marcus Morris, who was a last-minute scratch with knee soreness. Al Horford also missed his sixth straight game with a knee injury.
But isn’t that where Boston’s amazing depth is supposed to come in and save the day? The Celtics got their usual scoring punch from Kyrie Irving, who poured in a game-high 29 points, but he had very little help. Jayson Tatum needed 17 shots to score his 18 points, and was just 2-for-7 in the second half. Jaylen Brown, back in the starting five in place of the injured Morris, had just six points in his 24 minutes, going 3-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-3 from three-point land. Terry Rozier was just 4-for-11 off the bench.
Even still, the Celtics should have been able to beat the seven-win (now eight-win) Phoenix Suns. They owned a 12-point lead early, a lead that dwindled when they surrendered a 33-point second quarter, and was gone when they scored just 18 points in the third.
The Suns just wanted the game more, and that was evident throughout. They owned the glass, out-rebounding the Celtics 56-37, pulling down 21 of those boards on the offensive end. Boston gave up 20 second-chance points on Wednesday night.
“It’s a real concern,” head coach Brad Stevens. “I thought they were the faster, more physical team.”
Boston is now 9-8 at home this season.
The Celtics had plenty of chances to get back in, but nine of their 16 turnovers came in the second half, and they shot just 30 percent from the floor. They again relied far too much on the three-point attack, which works occasionally. But when you make just four shots from inside the arc in over the final 24 minutes, you’re not going to win many games that way.
Still, despite all of that, Boston had their chances in the final minutes. They found themselves down only six points after Marcus Smart made a trio of freebies with 4:01 to go. They got a pair of stops on Phoenix’s next possession, with just 16 seconds coming off the block, but rookie Robert Williams missed two free throws. The Celtics got another stop when Devin Booker missing a floater on the baseline, and Brad Stevens drew up a beautiful play to get Irving an open look during a Boston timeout.
But Irving’s layup was rejected by a trailing Josh Jackson. The Celtics had yet another chance when Kelly Oubre missed a driving layup, but Irving couldn’t put in his own layup in high off the glass, and Booker put in an easy running layup on the other end to put Phoenix up by eight.
In the end, it’s another disappointing loss in a string of disappointing losses over the first quarter of the season, right up there with an embarrassing home loss to the Knicks one month ago. The eight-game win streak had many hoping that those days were behind this Celtics team. They are not.
It’s another missed opportunity to gain some ground in the standings, as the Pacers and the Raptors squared off in Toronto. Indiana held a late lead in that game, but being the legit contender they are, the Raptors came back in the final minutes on their home floor. It’s what the Celtics should have done, but all too often this season, have come up short this season. Boston is back to being 4.5 games behind of Toronto in the Eastern Conference.
Maybe the Suns are just a bad matchup for the Celtics. This the same team the C’s needed to mount a furious comeback against in Phoenix in early November. They have loads of young talent and one day may be a formidable team in the Western Conference. But that is not what they are in the present, and there is absolutely no excuse, no pardon, for the Celtics losing another game they should have easily won on their home floor.
Wednesday night in Boston, the seven-win Suns were the hungrier team. That is a big issue for the Celtics, one they can’t seem to fix.