Suns 88, Celtics 71

Celtics are left lacking

Rivers, Garnett ejected, team disjointed vs. Suns

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 29, 2011

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PHOENIX — Maybe it was the fouls. Maybe it was the score. But Doc Rivers had reached his boiling point.

The Celtics were down, 42-25, with 4:33 left in the second quarter last night, and the coach could have fished for any number of reasons why his team was in such a deep hole.

The Celtics were shooting 34.2 percent, flirting with a season low.

The calls weren’t going their way. In fact, two quick fouls put Shaquille O’Neal on the bench just 93 seconds into the game.

And with the Suns continually applying pressure, it seemed like nothing was going to get sorted out.

So a garden variety gripe between coach and referee turned into a heated exchange where Rivers all but called Steve Javie an egomaniac and Javie, quick on the trigger, tossed Rivers.

Rivers exploded.

“You’re terrible,’’ he said. “It’s all about you. It’s all about you.’’

Eventually, Rivers was escorted to the Celtics’ locker room by team security.

That just set off the dominoes.

By the end of the fourth quarter, the Celtics were being blown out of US Airways Arena. With 4:07 left, Channing Frye pulled up for a 3-pointer. As he closed in on the jumper, Garnett appeared to hit Frye in the groin. After crumpling to the floor, Frye sprung up and into Garnett’s face.

It sparked a minor fracas, shoving between players on both squads, until teammates and officials broke it up. In the end, Garnett was ejected after picking up two technicals on the play and Suns sharpshooter Steve Nash was on the foul line for three freebies (he made 2 of 3).

The Celtics eventually swallowed their third straight loss to the Suns, 88-71, who swept the season series.

Paul Pierce missed 10 of his 15 shots, scoring 14 points. Garnett exited with 18 points and nine rebounds. They were the only Celtics in double figures.

Marcin Gortat led the Suns with 19 points and 17 rebounds off the bench.

In the past two seasons, Rivers had been tossed from games against the Jazz, the Hawks, the Cavs — all losses.

But the Celtics were out of synch before Rivers was ejected, and they never got on track once he left.

Rivers explained his first technical. “[Javie] actually came into our huddle. He said, ‘You guys are complaining too much.’ I said, ‘You guys are missing too many calls,’’ said Rivers, whose team dug a big early hole, falling behind, 49-31, with 2:06 left in the half.

After Rivers was ejected, he said he told Javie, “It’s about the game. It’s not about one individual.’’

“That’s all I said . . . over and over again,’’ Rivers said after the game.

The Suns had already had the Celtics’ number, sweeping the season series a year ago and winning seven of the past 10 meetings.

Last night, they snapped a three-game losing skid, victimizing a Celtics team that had shown signs of slipping the night before in Portland, when they committed a season-high 21 turnovers. They followed that up by coughing the ball up 17 times against the Suns, and the Suns owned the rebounding battle (45-40).

The Celtics ran cold in all phases.

They missed 2 of their 18 3-pointers (Ray Allen going 2 for 4 in an otherwise lackluster night with 8 points).

After missing his first six shots, Pierce fired a 3-pointer at the rim like an arrow for his first field goal, but the Celtics were down, 38-25.

There were strong signs that this wasn’t going to be the Celtics’ night.

Shaquille O’Neal, returning to the lineup after missing three games with soreness in his right hip, picked up two fouls in less than two minutes and ended up back on the bench.

Kendrick Perkins, on a minutes restriction three games after returning from ACL surgery, came in much sooner than he anticipated.

Pierce, playing after bruising his right thigh late in the Celtics’ 88-78 win over the Blazers, was misfiring and Allen and Rajon Rondo (seven turnovers for the game) were a combined 1-of-5 shooting in the first quarter.

But the mind-blower came at the end of the first.

Gortat had taken all of four 3-pointers in is career before last night. The ball went his way with 0.4 seconds left in the first quarter and he launched one from straight away. It touched only net. Gortat threw his hands up like he knocks those shots down on a regular basis. The Suns went up, 30-16, and the Celtics were punch-drunk from then on.

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