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The Read & React: Sun burned

The Celtics have split the first two games of their final west coast trip with the Clippers, Warriors, and Nuggets still on the schedule.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Absence makes the heart grow fonder (Lachlan Marr): This was not a good game. There was a lot of turnovers, a lack of ball movement and the Celtics looked out of rhythm and out of step. But more than anything, this game really highlighted how important Al Horford is to Boston’s play as a team. Horford - whose signing has been heavily criticised by some - genuinely is a key piece on offensive and defensive plays, despite what his numbers may sometimes suggest.

Really, looking at this game, a case can be made that at least 10 of Isaiah’s points from virtually every other game could just as easily be handed to Horford, that’s how important Horford setting screens and stretching the floor is to Boston’s positional play. More often than not it’s the Big Guy that gets the Little Guy open.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

However, this cosmic collapse against a struggling Suns team was about more than just missing Horford. The Celtics were without Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Tyler Zeller but even still a team gunning for the No. 1 spot should surely have been able to dispatch of the 14th-seed Suns.

In a game where the young guns had the opportunity to shine Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown put in only middling performances, Terry Rozier was fairly impressive in limited minutes but Isaiah Thomas had an off-shooting night and still managed to outscore his fellow Celtics.

Ultimately this was an embarrassing loss to Isaiah’s former team and a game the Celtics should have really made their own.

It shouldn’t take Horford’s exceptional professionalism and positional play for this team to know what they’re doing. This team should know who they are and what they’re doing day in and day out, every single game. Yet this season the Celtics have seemed like a Jekyll and Hyde team who easily lose their identity when confronted with adversity and its cost them more than a few easy wins.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Terry Rozier's Major Impact (Tim MacLean): It will get swept under the rug due to the loss and bigger plays, but Terry Rozier's steal and save that lead to an Isaiah Thomas three with about five minutes left in the game was huge.

The momentum started swinging back towards the Celtics with that play and, just a few minutes later, Jaylen Brown nailed the three that brought Boston within one.

Rozier also knocked down a couple big threes of his own, including one from the left corner when the Suns left him wide open during a Jordan Mickey drive in the third.

What impresses most, though, is the simple fact that Rozier almost always seems ready. He didn't enter the game against the Lakers the other night until later on in the second half, yet he was a crucial reason why Boston was able to slow down LA's run. He did the same tonight against Phoenix. I like the impact he's had lately.

Get up, stand up (Bill Sy): “The Celtics are 40-23. They’re still the second seed in the East.” I’ve been repeating that to myself every time I think of Tyler Ulis’ miracle buzzer beater. Losses like yesterday’s fumble in Phoenix are easier to swallow when you look at the big picture. But even without Avery Bradley and Al Horford, it’s a game they should have won. Boston has taken care of business against bad teams; they’re 27-7 vs. teams under .500 despite battling injuries all season.

Against good or bad teams, the Celtics are fairly consistent on offense. They have an offensive rating of 107.3 vs. playoff teams and they’re a little better against non-playoff teams at 109.3. It’s been on defense where they’ve made the biggest difference. Against playoff teams, they actually have a negative net rating of -1.4, but against non-playoff teams, they’re holding teams to 101.3 points per 100 possessions for a net rating of +8.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In Phoenix, it was one of those strange anomalies where Boston didn’t show up on the offensive end. The Celtics are sixth in the league in preventing turnovers at 13 per game, but against a poor defensive team in the Suns, they coughed it up 12 times for 16 points. They’re the league’s best free throw shooting team at 81.1%, but they made only 29-of-40 last night, leaving points on the table. They were soft around the rim (14-for-34 in the restricted area) and it seemed like one of those games where the ball stopped moving and players had personal motivations.

Thomas had 35, but there were times where he seemed to get caught up in the mano-a-mano duel with Tyler Ulis and the homecoming of sorts feel of returning to his old team. Gerald Green was coming back from injury and forced up a lot of bad shots in his fourteen minutes of play. Boston’s 19 assists was its lowest since their loss in Toronto; in the two games prior, they had 30 in Los Angeles and 28 against the Cavaliers. Every NBA team plays a handful of dud games in an 82-game schedule. This was one of them and with tough contests on the horizon back in LA vs. the Clippers, up the 5 freeway in Golden State, and then capping off the trip in Denver, they’ll have plenty of opportunity to redeem themselves against better competition.

“The Celtics are 40-23. They’re still the second seed in the East.”

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