PHOENIX -- For the second time since Antoine Walker returned to Boston, the Celtics finished with a victory and the power forward recorded a double-double.
In the Celtics' 120-113 overtime win against the Suns last night, Walker (33 points, 13 rebounds) had company as Paul Pierce (25 points, 12 rebounds) also logged a double-double to help the visitors get the job done at America West Arena, finish the road trip 2-2, and move one game above .500.
Without the services of Amare Stoudemire in OT (he fouled out with 8:47 to go in regulation) and Steve Nash all game long (injured hamstring), Phoenix could not match the Boston offense in the end. It was the first time an Eastern Conference opponent has won a game in Phoenix this season.
A 3-pointer by Delonte West with 1:56 left put the Celtics ahead for good. West (a career-high 19 points) also came up with a big offensive rebound and had the presence of mind to call a timeout to gain control as Boston nursed a 5-point lead. A pair of free throws by Ricky Davis and a layup by Walker with less than a minute left secured the win. Meanwhile, the Suns atypically struggled to make free throws and shots in the final minutes of the extra period. The frustration for Phoenix boiled over when coach Mike D'Antoni was ejected with 19.9 seconds left in OT for jawing with Pierce.
"It shouldn't be this hard," said Boston coach Doc Rivers as the finals seconds elapsed. In his postgame news conference, Rivers added: "We were very happy to get to overtime, let me tell you. That was an absolutely great, great win for us."
Boston could only hold off Phoenix for so long in the fourth quarter and the game went to OT tied, 106-106. Phoenix's Shawn Marion (a career-high 20 rebounds) collected an offensive rebound and put in a layup to tie the game, 100-100, with 3:33 to play. Quentin Richardson pushed Phoenix ahead for the first time in the second half, 102-100, scoring on a fast-break layup with 2:45 left. Richardson then added another layup.
But the Celtics stayed close, fighting for rebounds and going to Walker for clutch, close-range shots. Pierce tied the game at 106 with a pair of free throws with 36.6 seconds remaining. Marcus Banks blocked a shot to give Boston a final chance at victory in regulation, but an 11-footer by Walker fell short with 3.9 seconds remaining.
Even though former Celtic Joe Johnson threw in a 44-footer at the third-quarter buzzer, the Celtics still finished the quarter with a lead, 87-84. But Boston wished it had a larger cushion going into the fourth. After all, the Celtics led by 10 points (87-77) with 56.1 seconds remaining in the third. Free throws by Johnson combined with a Leandro Barbosa layup and the desperation heave allowed the Suns to stage a 7-0 run over the final 43.6 seconds of the third.
The Celtics managed to sustain their slim lead throughout the early portion of the fourth, though there was some serious concern when Pierce knocked knees with one of the Suns and fell to the floor. He rubbed the inside of his left knee before being taken out of the game. But he returned less than a minute later.
The Celtics took the floor more than a little fired up. The result? They collected four technical fouls in the first quarter and entered halftime ahead, 62-55. Not to be outdone, the Suns finished the first half with three technicals. After falling behind late in the first quarter and trailing much of the second, the Celtics finally regrouped shortly before halftime and closed with a 16-3 run. Banks, who has played some of his best basketball since the departure of Gary Payton, sparked the spurt with a 3-pointer and a 16-footer on the break. As the second wound down, Walker sent a sideways, almost no-look pass to Pierce on the break for an easy layup. The play showed that the chemistry between Walker and Pierce is well on its way to being back.
Back in the first, no sooner did the Celtics establish an 18-6 advantage on a fast-break layup by West with 7:20 left in the quarter, than they started to cross the fine line between productive and problematic emotion. Pierce picked up a technical 17 seconds later. Then, Kendick Perkins got a T from the bench with 5:59 left in the first. "People don't understand what the game of basketball is all about," said Pierce. "It's a physical war, but people don't understand the psychology of the game. I was trying to get my teammates fired up, get our emotions into the game. We responded, once we got it all out into the air and turned it into the type of game we like to play."
With 4:32 to go in the first, West went in for a layup with Stoudemire on his back. The two fell in a twisted heap beneath the basket. West gave a slight shove to Stoudemire and before the players could separate themselves, teammates soon rushed in from both sides, with Walker leading the way. Some pushing and shoving followed. But the officials quickly regained control by assessing quadruple technicals. The first pair of technicals when to West and Stoudemire, the second to Johnson and Walker for joining the fray.
Phoenix had closed within 5 points (24-19). On the Suns' next possession, Johnson started a 14-4 run that left the home team ahead, 33-28, with 38.9 seconds remaining. Phoenix finished the first with a 33-30 lead.
"There was a lot of emotion in this game," said Rivers. "Our team, I'll tell you, they are showing a lot of pride. They felt when we were at home, [the Suns] beat us and they talked about it. I didn't like the verbal emotion, but I did like the intensity."
Rivers hopes the Celtics bring their intensity for an upcoming six-game homestand, without all the other excess baggage.