|Robin Lopez and the Suns had to resort to fouling to slow down Kevin Garnett, who missed only two of his 14 shots. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)|
Garnett (28) gets fired up against Suns
There were all of 16.2 seconds left, the Celtics’ 115-103 win over the Suns had essentially been over for three quarters, and Kevin Garnett picked up a technical foul.
He was exchanging words with Suns coach Alvin Gentry since he didn’t get a chance to in late January, when Gentry told an Arizona radio station he had lost respect for Garnett, after Garnett took a swipe at Channing Frye’s midsection as Frye elevated for a jump shot and got more groin than stomach.
It was replayed on every highlight show, and it looked like a sucker punch every time.
Frye fumed at that moment, getting nose to nose with Garnett, which led to jawing, technicals, and a minor mosh pit of players. Gentry was appalled, but his team won by 17 points and Garnett kept the loss and the animosity bottled up until last night, when he scored 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and missed just 2 of 14 shots, setting the tone for the Celtics’ third straight win.
So, with the game sewn up, Garnett chose to get the last word in.
“Alvin Gentry was asking me for tickets to the first round of the playoffs,’’ Garnett said. “I told him I’d hook him up.’’
Garnett took Gentry’s words personally and responded on the floor, putting up his sixth straight double-double. All Gentry could do was bark from the bench.
“It’s very uncommon,’’ Garnett said of beefing with a coach. “But they’re an uncommon team.’’
All the Celtics’ dealing — newly signed Troy Murphy played his first game last night while the Celtics were reaching an agreement with Sasha Pavlovic — made it hard to remember that the Suns were on Garnett and the Celtics’ checklist. The Celtics ran up 32 points in the first quarter, sending a message.
“That’s what the explosion early was about,’’ Rivers said. “The tech at the end of the game, I thought was not a great tech in my opinion. I thought their bench, their coaches, were talking, which I don’t think you should ever do if you have a suit and tie on and actually can’t play. I don’t think you should be doing a lot of talking to players on the floor.’’
Even the newcomers could sense it.
“I actually watched the first game [the Celtics and Suns] played,’’ said Jeff Green, playing just his third game with the Celtics. “I saw how heated it was. Just talking to Kevin before the game, they were ready for the game. I saw when they lost, and I’m pretty sure they wanted some get-back. That’s why I think they came out intense the first couple minutes.’’
From the start, Garnett was surgical, knocking down his first five shots. He scored 12 of the Celtics’ first 20 points.
“We’re pretty unbeatable when Kevin puts up these kinds of numbers,’’ said Rajon Rondo, who finished with 16 points and 15 assists. “He came with it on his mind and he followed through. He shot well but he still was aggressive and we fed off his energy.’’
They also fed off the animosity.
In the third quarter, Paul Pierce caught a baseball pass from Rondo, took off on the left side of the rim, and flushed one down with Frye in his wake.
“I wanted Kevin to dunk on him in the first half, but he kept laying it up,’’ Pierce joked, after putting up a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double. “I was just playing aggressive, it didn’t matter who it was at the time, truthfully.’’
Rondo took it down to the end. Up, 113-103, with 9.6 seconds left after Mickael Pietrus scored, Rondo launched the inbounds pass the length of the floor to Green, and raced to the other end to demand the ball back to take a 3-pointer from in front of the Suns’ bench.
Jared Dudley defended Rondo like the shot was a potential game-winner, fouling him and sending him to the line for three shots. Rondo made two of them.
It was the last jab in a back-and-forth that started when Gentry called a timeout with 49.3 seconds left down 13, eventually leading to Garnett’s technical.
“I thought that was a function of the technical,’’ Rivers said. “He heard their bench talking. So I had no problem with it.’’
“We knew coming in to expect a little trash talk,’’ Rondo said. “They beat us last time. It was an intense game, but it wasn’t. We had a pretty good lead the entire game.’’
Down, 91-72, at the end of the third, the Suns went on a 13-2 run to start the fourth, cutting the Celtics’ lead to 8, behind Aaron Brooks’s one-man rally. He wound up with 17 points off the bench, but the Suns never seriously threatened.
Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer from the corner in front of the Celtics’ bench with 4:14 left putting the Celtics up, 101-90. It was one of his four threes in a 19-point night.
But for his own reasons, Garnett was locked in (22d double-double the season), and the Celtics followed his lead.
“It doesn’t matter,’’ Rivers said. “They beat us, so we remembered. We lost a game where we played horrible and there was a lot of talking. It’s just human nature.’’
Garnett made sure to get the last word.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.