Celtics wary of slumping Suns (Mar 24, 2017)

BY AP • March 24, 2017

BOSTON -- Despite the records and places in the standings, don't expect to see the Boston Celtics overlook the Phoenix Suns when the teams meet at TD Garden on Friday night.

It was just 2 1/2 weeks ago that the Suns scored five points in the last four seconds and stunned the Celtics in Phoenix.

Isaiah Thomas put up 35 points that night, but he missed a free throw with 11.9 seconds left and then turned the ball over -- rookie Tyler Ulis picking it up and draining a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Suns a 109-106 victory.

The Celtics lost that game without the injured Al Horford and Avery Bradley, but both have returned and are coming on strong.

Boston (46-26) trails the Cleveland Cavaliers (46-26) by just one game for the Eastern Conference lead. The Celtics lead the Washington Wizards (43-28) by 2 1/2 games for the second spot.

The Celtics defeated the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night for a 12th win in their past 13 home games. The Friday contest is the second game of a six-game homestand that features some playoff-type competition.

"It's going to be good for us," said Bradley, who played 39 minutes Wednesday, another sign he is over the Achilles problem that forced him to miss most of January and February. "We're playing the right way right now, and even the next game, Phoenix -- every team is playing hard right now, and it's our job to continue to keep playing the right way and trying to prepare for the playoffs.

"We're almost there. We're close."

Thomas scored 25 points Wednesday as he continues to close in on or set Celtics scoring marks. He has 213 3-pointers for the season and needs 10 to break Antoine Walker's team record.

The rebuilding Suns (22-50) are 1-8 since that win over the Celtics; they lost their sixth in a row Thursday at Brooklyn. Phoenix blew an early 15-point deficit and wound up taking a 126-98 beating.

Earlier in the day, general manager Ryan McDonough took to the airwaves in Phoenix concerning the fate of coach Earl Watson, rumored to be a candidate if the UCLA job becomes available. Watson is in the first year of a three-year contract.

"It really hasn't come up yet; it hasn't come across our radar," McDonough told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "Obviously, I know what's out there. Look, we love Coach Watson and the job he's done with our young group. He's really connected with our young players, they play hard every night.

"He and his staff were here pretty much all summer working with our players, building relationships with them, developing them. ... We fully expect him to be the coach here for a long time. That would be our preference; that would be my preference."

On Thursday night, Devin Booker scored 28 points and Marquese Chriss 23, but the Suns gave up 74 points in the second half as their road record fell to 9-27.

Chriss, asked after the game what Watson said to the team following the loss, said, "Just stay true to ourselves. I think that's the biggest thing. Just keep trying to play through adversity.

"We're in a tough position ... just keep playing, that's the biggest thing, I think."



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