BOSTON – The Boston Celtics blew a 14-point third-quarter lead but rode the play of their bench to their fourth straight win, a 87-79 decision over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
Phoenix, losers of 10 of its last 11 games overall and its last 11 on the road, rallied with a 17-0 run over a 5:19 span of the third. But the Suns ran out of gas as the Celtics, opening a season-long five-game homestand, ran off an 11-2 spurt at start of the fourth quarter to break it open again.
It wasn’t quite over as the Suns went 7-for-8 from the foul line to cut the deficit back to six with 1:53 left. But they could get no closer.
The four straight victories have the Celtics back over the .500 mark, at 18-17.
The Boston bench outscored the starters, 47-40. Jeff Green scored 14 points, including three powerful dunks, Jason Terry broke out of a three-game shooting slump with 13 points while adding five rebounds and five assists, and rookie Jared Sullinger scored 12 points and pulled down 16 rebounds, which is the most rebounds by a Celtics player this season. It was Sullinger’s second double-double, and he has 32 rebounds in the last three games.
Kevin Garnett had 10 points and five rebounds but was a key contributor during the fourth-quarter portion of the run. Rajon Rondo, returning from a one-game suspension for brushing an official, had eight points and eight assists.
The Suns’ Luis Scola had 13 points and eight rebounds, Marcin Gortat 12 points and 14 boards, Jared Dudley 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and Goran Dragic 12 points in the loss, which dropped the Suns to 12-25.
Garnett opened the second half with a basket 16 seconds in, giving the Celtics the 14-point lead, before the visitors took off.
A P.J. Tucker basket, a Gortat slam and a Dudley 3-pointer got it going, and by the time the smoke cleared, the Suns had their 17 in a row and the lead. The Celtics came right back with six straight points and led by three at the end of the third quarter.
Boston coach Doc Rivers got a technical foul with 17.1 seconds left in the quarter, but Shannon Brown missed the free throw. Then, 1:54 into the fourth quarter, Rondo and Tucker received matching technicals after a Tucker basket, as the Celtics again took control of the game.
NOTES: Rondo, before the game, on his latest suspension: “The fans still love me. They don’t really judge me as much as the media. But it’s part of the job.” Tuesday, he said, “I feel like I’m a criminal. I go to court a lot.” He inadvertently admitted hanging up on the league office when called prior to his suspension. Rondo also got between Garnett and Carmelo Anthony after the game Monday night, saying, “I was pretty comfortable. I didn’t want anything to happen to the big fella. I had my teammate’s back, but nobody was looking for a fight or anything, just trying to break it up and be there for my teammate.” Anthony was suspended one game for trying to meet with Garnett at the Celtics’ bus. … Phoenix’s Dudley has become a name being thrown around in trade rumors. The Boston College product, back “home” for his game (he’s actually from California) left tickets for his college coach, Al Skinner. “I’m looking forward to seeing him,” Dudley said. … The Suns continue their four-game road trip at Brooklyn Friday night, while then Celtics continue their homestand against Houston Friday. … The Suns came in looking for the franchise’s 2,000th all-time victory. … Jermaine O’Neal, who had two rough years in Boston, returned with the Suns. He is in his 17th NBA season and came in averaging 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for Phoenix. … Rivers, reacting to a report Seattle could be getting the Sacramento Kings, said he felt bad for the city of Sacramento for losing a team but also said, “I missed going to Seattle. It’s one of my favorite cities.”