When we previewed the Suns current 5-game road trip, the fourth game of the trip against the Boston Celtics looked to be one of the more difficult matchups. After all, in the four seasons since the Celtics acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to complete their new "Big Three", they've won at least 60 games twice, at least 50 games in the two other seasons, won the Finals once and narrowly lost in another Finals appearance.
This has been one of the league's elite teams. But the key phrase in that statement might just be "has been", as the aging Celtics are off to a slow start at 5-8, and talk of "blowing up the team" is swirling after it took a game against the lowly Raptors for the Celtics to snap a 5-game losing streak.
The Suns broke a 5-game losing streak of their own with a win over the stumbling New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Wednesday by holding the Knicks' wannabe dynamic duo of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to a combined 12-44 shooting from the field. Before that the Suns were in a free fall, dropping from the doorstep of the Western Conference's top 8 teams down to #13, losing to good teams and bad alike along the way.
Which of these old, floundering teams is ready to gain a little momentum with a second consecutive win?
Follow the jump for more.
The Suns and Celtics split their two games last season, with the Suns laying waste to the Celtics 88-71 in Phoenix last January 28th in one of their best performances of the season. When the Suns went to Boston, the Celtics returned the favor with a 115-103 blowout win.
Marcin Gortat led the Suns in their win with a 19 point, 17 rebound outing and Vince Carter scored 17 (yes, he did have a few good games for the Suns), but the most memorable event in the game was Kevin Garnett's classless low blow to Channing Frye's nether regions as Frye was landing from a jump shot. In case you have forgotten, watch this. (Take special note of
that blowhard jackass former ESPN analyst and current Warriors coach Mark Jackson inexplicably defending Garnett):
Last season was mostly of the soul-sucking nature for Suns fans. There wasn't much to get too excited or disappointed about. It was just bleh. But this....THIS!.....My blood was boiling watching this go down, and I remember that game as one of the sweetest victories of the season. I might have even used a few naughty words in the game thread to describe my feelings about Garnett, and those feelings have not gone away AT ALL. His team is getting whipped and his response is to punch a defenseless opponent in the groin? Garnett might be a future HOF-er, but he's a punk for moves like that. He's one of the players I hate the most in the NBA and I'm frothing at the possibility the Suns can stick it to him again.
Channing's mother Karen Frye wasn't happy about Garnett's cowardly act either, as she explained to our own Eutychus when he asked her about the incident on Suns media day last month.
The Celtics got us back in that second game last year. This is the only time we face them this year, and could be the last time we ever face this core group of players. So, win this F@*#-ing game, Suns. Win it for Karen Frye, win it for all of us. I want Kevin Garnett to walk off that court completely pissed off.
Now, on to the game details.
This year's version of the Celtics continues the slow, grinding style we're accustomed to seeing from them, as they're 27th in the league in pace and the average score of their games so far is 90.2-91.0. All of the numbers show them to be a thoroughly average team: they're 19th in O-Rating and 16th in D-Rating. For a team that's been a championship contender, that is quite a drop. As Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen age deeper into their 30s, point guard Rajon Rondo has become more of their true franchise player. Rondo leads the team in assists and is second in scoring.
The good news for the Suns is that Rondo is doubtful to play after injuring his right wrist against the Raptors on Wednesday night. Journeyman combo guard Keyon Dooling would be a prime candidate to replace Rondo, but he missed practice on Thursday due to injury and is also unlikely to play. Second year pro Avery Bradley, he of the 81 points and 18 assists total in his career, looks to be the next in line, so this should give the Suns a great opportunity to control the Celtics offensive output. Update 1/20/12 10:53AM MST: Rondo's MRI results were negative. He's now a game-time decision and says he expects to play, according to the Boston Globe.
Questions remain about the Suns lineup as well, although the team is reasonably healthy. Alvin Gentry inserted Ronnie Price and Markieff Morris as starters Wednesday night. The pair wasn't particularly effective and one of the players sent to help bench production, Jared Dudley, went scoreless, but the Suns did have steadier production throughout the game. They didn't lose any of the four quarters to the Knicks, so a similar lineup can probably be expected tonight. Update II 1/20/12 12:25PM MST: Paul Coro reports that the starting linueps will be:
PG: Steve Nash vs. Rajon Rondo
SG: Ronnie Price vs. Ray Allen
SF: Grant Hill vs. Paul Pierce
PF: Markieff Morris vs. Kevin Garnett
C: Marcin Gortat vs. Jermaine O'Neal
Note: Our esteemed contributor Jim Coughenour did BSotS proud Wednesday in an appearance on New Hampshire ESPN affiliate WGAM. His brilliant piece analyzing the Suns early season results gained the station's attention and he participated in a telephone interview, the podcast of which can be found here (go to about the 3/4 way mark). Great work, Jim! Brightsiders, post high quality fan posts and this could be you!
Michael Redd was always a long shot to help the Phoenix Suns this season. He's been out of the game a long time and to walk on to a team already dealing with questions about roles and rotations is quite the challenge even for a guy as nice and pious as Redd.
Michael has gone 1-12 after his first game and we know how misleading first games back can be. Redd didn't even play on the second of a back-to-back in New York on a night that saw Steve Nash and Grant Hill each play 38 minutes.
Giving Redd more time to adjust and get in game shape is only the right thing to do. Frankly, it's the only thing to do.
But it's no surprise at all to hear him talk about his struggles adjusting to playing with the Suns. We've heard it all before. Players, particularly shooting guards who are used to having the ball in their hands, find themselves relegated to spotting up in the corner while Steve Nash runs the show.
This sound at all familiar?
Phoenix Suns shake up staring lineup vs. New York Knicks
"The more I play, the more I'll get used to playing," Redd said. "It just hasn't happened. I've got to get adjusted to the system. Coach and I talked about other ways to get me the ball when I come in the game. I'm used to having the ball in my hands and doing things. It's an adjustment."
Why Michael Redd wasn't signed sooner and at least able to participate in the limited training camp with the Suns is a question I've yet to find an answer to. (Then again, I've not really had a chance yet to ask the right people.) (And besides, does it really matter?) (Probably, it matters some since Redd would have had an additional three weeks or so.) (But maybe the Suns didn't want his rehab period to interfere with camp.) (Or maybe Redd was exploring other options.) (Probably, I shouldn't deal in idle speculation couched in mysterious parentheses). (Ok, I'll stop now.)
In other news, Gentry shook up the starting lineup to get Dudley on the bench where he can help the second unit flow a bit better and put Shannon Brown with Steve Nash where he won't feel the need to emulate his buddy, Kobe Bean Bryant.
Of course, Brown didn't start with Nash. Ronnie Price started with Nash for reasons that aren't all that clear but it doesn't matter since Price played just 15 minutes on Wednesday and Brown was on the court in crunch time pinballing in a three from the corner.
It's a shame that Morris couldn't play more due to stomach flu (aka puking his guts out) but I'm looking forward to seeing Morris and Gortat on the floor together more. They are a good fit (if a bit undersized) and should help with the rebounding and give the Suns a low post option (if Nash is willing to use it).
What lineup do you like? Does it really matter?