Kemba Walker returned from a game absence firing on all cylinders as the Celtics pulled away from the Suns early and held on the rest of the way.
A 32-point performance from Walker, featuring a 45.5% chance of precipitation on 5-of-11 3-point shooting, fueled Boston to a much-needed 99-86 win at home.
The Suns entered the game with the second best record in the Western Conference (42-16). Led by Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the surging Suns came to Boston 8-2 in their last 10 games.
Boston was playing without Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams III and Evan Fournier. Romeo Langford got the start in place of Brown.
Kemba Walker started out hot after missing Monday’s game, hitting his first four shots for an early 11 points, including 3-for-3 from deep. Walker was carrying the Celtics in the first quarter offensively.
Jayson Tatum continued stuffing the stat sheet early, just as he had done against Chicago on Monday when he recorded his first career triple-double. Tatum had four points, five rebounds and four assists in the first quarter. He struggled from the field for the second game in a row, finishing 3-of-17.
Tatum is sporting a career-high 19.5 assist percentage this season, which is in the 91st percentile among forwards. In their last ten games, Boston has an offensive rating of 120.1 when he’s on the court, according to NBC Sports Boston.
The Celtics and Suns are both bottom third in the NBA in pace-of-play, so predictably the scoring was slow to begin. At the end of a quarter, the Celtics led 26-21 after Phoenix narrowed a 10-point gap.
Boston started the second quarter on an 11-0 run before Phoenix called an early timeout. After turning the ball over just once in the first quarter, Phoenix had three turnovers in two and a half minutes of the second quarter.
But, the Celtics had turnover problems of their own once DeAndre Ayton came back in, and Phoenix once again narrowed a large lead. The eleven-time All-Star Chris Paul had 10 points on 3-4 shooting for the Suns as they climbed back.
The Phoenix team defense was effective as well, trapping and forcing risky passes. Monty Williams’ team entered this game with the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA.
As the second quarter progressed, Walker was still without a miss. His first miss was his seventh attempt, with two minutes remaining in the half. The offense went as he went in the first half, and it was moving when he took the court. Walker ended the half with 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting.
Boston went on an 11-4 run to close out the second quarter and went into halftime ahead 53-37. Aaron Nesmith got involved earlier than usual and hit two 3-pointers in the run. Nesmith also drew a charge 1-on-1 against Booker.
The Suns came to the Garden with the seventh-best offense in the NBA in points per game. The Boston defense held them to low shooting percentages and forced many turnovers.
Aside from Walker, Tristan Thompson was playing well in the third, out-hustling Suns multiple times and getting second chance points. Thompson scored nine points, pulled down 12 rebounds and added six assists.
Chris Paul once again fueled the Suns to a 14-2 run, making a near 20-point lead a single digit one. Paul had 16 points and two steals after three. Boston still held a 12-point lead after three quarters, 77-65.
The Celtics only had one double-digit scorer heading into the fourth, but had five players with 6-9 points. Outside of Walker’s 27, the Celtics offense was spread out.
Devin Booker, the usual human torch which ignites in the Garden, wasn’t as explosive as in past parquet performances. He got in foul trouble, fouling out with three charges, and was 6-for-13 from the field with no threes for 15 points.
Boston was able to hold on to a consistent double-digit lead for the back half of the fourth, improving to 32-27 as the Eastern Conference playoff race draws tighter and tighter.