BOSTON -- Jason Terry says it's the bench's job to give the Boston Celtics a lift while giving the starters, two of them aging starters, a chance to rest.
On Wednesday night, performing the way coach Doc Rivers must have drawn it up as he awaited the return of Avery Bradley to the starting lineup, the bench did more than just provide a spark.
The reserves led the Celtics to their fourth consecutive win. Boston blew a 14-point, third-quarter lead courtesy of a 17-0 run by Phoenix, but the Celtics quickly regained control and disposed of the Suns, 87-79.
"It was a good effort for us," Terry said after his 13 points helped the bench outscore the starters 47-40 to lift the Celtics back over .500 at 18-17.
"We needed a spark from the bench tonight for whatever reason, but that's our job -- our job is to come in play with energy and make an impact on the game, and I thought we did that for the most part."
The Celtics' reserve corps has taken shape with the return of Bradley from shoulder surgery, moving both Terry and Courtney Lee to backup roles.
With rookie Jared Sullinger contributing 12 points and a team-season-high 16 rebounds, the Boston bench outscored Phoenix's bench 47-16. The Celtics' reserves went a combined 19-for-32 from the floor and had 24 of the team's 42 rebounds, including six of the 12 offensive boards. The starters went 18-for-49, with only Kevin Garnett (10 points) reached double figures.
"We're starting to flow. We're starting to figure out what works for us," said Lee, who had six points, two assists and three steals in 19 minutes. "The first group, they got Paul (Pierce) and they got Kevin and (Rajon) Rondo out there, and they're going to have sets to work for them, and the second group, we have to find what works for us, and that's what we're doing right now."
Said Rivers: "That's nice to see when you can have a night where your starters aren't great and your bench wins the game for you."
Sullinger's second career double-double continued a run that has seen the Ohio State product grab 40 rebounds in the past four games, 59 in the past seven.
"He's developing, tremendously," Lee said. "In practice you got KG (Garnett) who's always going to teach him, and you can see it carrying over in the games. He's learning how to get to his spots, getting in position."
Phoenix, losers of 10 of the last 11 games overall and the past 11 on the road, rallied with the big run over a 5:19 span of the third quarter. However, the Suns ran out of gas as the Celtics, opening a season-long, five-game homestand, ran off an 11-2 spurt at start of the fourth quarters to break it open again. The Suns made a little noise after that but never got closer than six.
"I think it would have been a little easier to swallow if it had been Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said, "but at the end of the day, it was the bench that really hurt us the most.
"Sullinger played great. I thought he was real active, and he rebounded the ball like I'm sure everyone anticipated him doing."
Terry broke out of a three-game shooting slump in which he was 5-for-23, 1-for-10 from 3-point range. He shot 6-for-8 Wednesday and added five rebounds and five assists.
Jeff Green scored 14 points, including three thunderous dunks, all on the one-year anniversary of his heart surgery.
"He got some dunks and looked good," Rivers said. "And who would have thought it a year ago?"
Rondo, returning from a one-game suspension for brushing an official, had eight points and eight assists.
Luis Scola had 16 points and eight rebounds, Marcin Gortat 12 points and 14 boards, Jared Dudley 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Goran Dragic 12 points in the loss, which dropped the Suns to 12-25.
NOTES: Rivers got a technical foul with 17.1 seconds left in the third quarter, but Shannon Brown missed the free throw. Then, 1:54 into the fourth quarter, Rondo and P.J. Tucker received matching technicals after a Tucker basket. ... Rondo, before the game, on his latest suspension: "The fans still love me. They don't really judge me as much as the media. But it's part of the job." Rondo also got between Garnett and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony after the game Monday night, saying, "I was pretty comfortable. I didn't want anything to happen to the big fella. I had my teammate's back, but nobody was looking for a fight or anything, just trying to break it up and be there for my teammate." Anthony was suspended one game for trying to meet with Garnett at the Celtics' bus. ... Dudley's name has been thrown around in trade rumors. The Boston College product, back "home" Wednesday (he's actually from California), left tickets for his college coach, Al Skinner. ... The Suns continue their four-game road trip at Brooklyn on Friday night, while the Celtics continue their homestand against Houston on Friday. ... Jermaine O'Neal, who had two rough years in Boston, returned with the Suns and scored two points in seven minutes. O'Neal, in his 17th NBA season, was booed a few times by the Boston crowd. ... Rivers, reacting to a report Seattle could be getting the Sacramento Kings, said he felt bad for the city of Sacramento for losing a team but also added, "I missed going to Seattle. It's one of my favorite cities."