The Boston Celtics rebounded from their worst stretch in two seasons with a four-game winning streak. A few more victories this week against better competition, and they’ll feel even more sure of their resurgence.
The defending NBA champions open a challenging portion of their schedule on Monday night against the visiting Phoenix Suns, who continue their six-game eastern swing looking to build off what they considered an important win.
After dramatically stumbling from the first 27-2 start in NBA history to an ugly 2-7 stretch that was their worst since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, the Celtics (33-9) appear to have recaptured their confidence, beating Toronto and New Jersey twice over the last eight days.
Despite again playing without center Kendrick Perkins and reserve Tony Allen, they dominated the Nets for the second straight game on Saturday, following up Wednesday’s 118-86 home win with a 105-85 victory in New Jersey.
Ray Allen scored 25 points to lead six scorers in double figures for Boston, which led by 29 at the half. The Celtics looked more like the team that won a franchise-record 19 consecutive games earlier this season than the one that dropped four straight early this month.
“It was a great start,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s one of the things we talked about. If you get off to a good start, it gives you a chance to play well the whole game. I thought the whole team was running well.”
Things should get a bit tougher this week, however, as the Celtics play four straight games against teams with winning records - including a visit on Thursday to face red-hot Orlando, which has won seven straight.
First, Boston must deal with the Suns, who began their longest road trip of the season on Sunday after having dropping back-to-back games capped by a disappointing home loss to Minnesota.
That led Amare Stoudemire to call Sunday’s game at Toronto a must-win, and Phoenix (23-15) came through with a 117-113 victory. Stoudemire scored 11 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns held off a late rally.
“We’re a different team when he plays at that level,” Suns coach Terry Porter said of Stoudemire.
Steve Nash also had a season-high 18 assists in the game, with Shaquille O’Neal adding 16 points. But O’Neal may not have as big of an impact against the Celtics considering the 36-year-old has played on back-to-back days just once since Thanksgiving.
He’s averaging 11.0 points and 7.0 rebounds on zero days’ rest this season.
Last season’s series featured a clash of styles, with the normally fast-paced Suns beating Boston 85-77 in Phoenix on Feb. 22. But the Celtics ended a five-game losing streak against the Suns with a 117-97 home win on March 26, behind 30 points from Kevin Garnett and 27 from Paul Pierce.
The Suns are in the midst of a makeover this season under new coach Terry Porter, who said the up-tempo style is “not to my liking” after Sunday’s victory. Still, Phoenix has scored more than 100 points in 17 of its last 18 games and allowed that many in 20 of the last 23.
The Celtics, meanwhile, allow just 91.6 points per game, the NBA’s second-lowest mark.
Nash averaged 15.0 points and 7.0 assists against the Celtics last season, but Suns guard Jason Richardson had a pair of 30-point games at the TD Banknorth Garden in 2007-08 while with Charlotte.