for this game

Suns win defensive battle over Celtics

Feb 23, 2008 - 8:24 AM By Bob Huhn PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

PHOENIX (Ticker) -- The highest scoring team in the league proved it can be a threat in a half-court game as well.

Amare Stoudemire scored 28 points and Grant Hill added 14 and 13 rebounds to lead the Phoenix Suns over the Boston Celtics, 85-77, on Friday night.

In his second game with the Suns, Shaquille O'Neal scored four points and pulled down a game-high 14 boards. After acquiring the four-time NBA champion two weeks ago, Phoenix felt it would be better defensively, but the 325-pound O'Neal could slow down its fast-paced offense.

"I'm still getting with the guys," O'Neal said. "I have been telling them since I have been here, 'Don't worry about me. I'll get mine. I just want to get as many boards as I can.'

"I can't remember the last time I got 14 rebounds. I will go on the record and say three months ago."

The Suns finished Friday with their second-lowest point total of the season and attempted less field goals than the competition (78 to 73) for one of the few times this season.

"We are not a pretty team anymore," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Obviously, the defense and rebounding - all that was good. We just need to keep our defensive intensity where it was and work on the offense."

However, they limited the Celtics to a season-low 77 points on just 38 percent (30-of-78) shooting.

Its perimeter defense was especially impressive, as Phoenix held All-Stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to a combined 19 points on 5-of-25 shooting.

"The type of shooting I had tonight, the (way) Ray (Allen) shot tonight we were still in the game," Pierce said. "So, there was a lot of good things we can take a way from tonight."

The Suns proved they could still score as they opened the game with a 19-4 run, hitting seven of their first 11 shots, while holding the Celtics to just 2-of-14 shooting.

Stoudemire and Steve Nash combined for 13 of the 19 points during that stretch while O'Neal controlled the boards, grabbing five rebounds and adding a block.

"Tonight was a lot of fun. I enjoyed every second of it," Stoudemire said. "With Shaq here, it has helped me a lot because it has allowed me to play basketball and not battle too much with the big guys and keep me out of foul trouble."

Boston's "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Allen and Pierce combined for just 2-of-14 shooting in the opening period as the Suns took a 24-13 lead after one.

Phoenix came out cold in the second quarter, missing its first eight shots during a nearly 12-minute field-goal drought bridging the first and second quarters. The Celtics took advantage, cutting their deficit to 27-26 with 7:50 to play before the half.

The Suns found their offense and picked up the defensive intensity, closing the quarter with a 16-4 run to take the lead for good, 43-40, at the intermission.

The closest the Celtics would get the rest of the way was eight points, 53-45, with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter.

"I was happy with our defense. It was just that our offense was awful," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "The passing in transition alone was enough to make you shutter."

Garnett scored 19 points and Rajon Rondo chipped in with 12 for Boston, which has lost three consecutive games for the first time this season.

"I think Shaq adds a lot, man. Not just toughness, but mental toughness - a swagger," Garnett said. "People tend to think that the big fella doesn't have a lot in the tank, but I beg to differ."