PHOENIX — The Boston Celtics’ improbable win over the Phoenix Suns probably should not have been as difficult as the Celtics made it.
So while Celtics guard Marcus Smart was glad to get the win, after a dramatic finish to regulation and a back-and-forth overtime period won thanks to Kyrie Irving’s brilliance, he reminded reporters after the game that falling behind by 20 in the first two quarters against a team bound for the top of the lottery was less than ideal, even given the comeback that followed.
“I hope so, I really do,” Smart said when asked if Thursday’s game was a wake-up call. “We’ll find out tomorrow (in Utah).”
Where the game began to slip away from Boston in the early going was a little unclear. From the stands, it looked like the Celtics missed shots and then took more than two full quarters to snap out of their funk. The poor offense led to poor defense, and everything snowballed until the Suns had built a 20-point lead.
“Sometimes, we’re out there being a little too cool and it’s hard,” Jaylen Brown said. “We have so many guys that are so talented and the game comes easy to, sometimes we forget why we started and that process it took to get here. We got to play like we’re hungry. We can’t play like we are sitting on a mountain top. In that second half, we played like that.”
That lack of fire was especially infuriating to Smart, who said he knows what this team can be when they are clicking.
“It frustrates everybody,” Smart said. “I’m gonna say yes, I think I speak for everybody. It frustrates all of us. We all know we can give a little bit more, each and every last one of us. And it’s just sad to see us not giving that. It’s sad that it takes something like that for us to be down like that to do that. We’ve got to figure out how to get ourselves going early and not let ourselves get in that predicament. …
“I’ve seen what we can do, what we’re capable of when we’re locked in, and it’s frustrating to watch. Sitting on the bench it’s frustrating to watch those guys out there. It’s frustrating to get out there and feel the energy out there. I just tried to give a little pep talk, whatever you may take it as, to get us going.”
The Celtics got away with their early struggles because they were playing the Suns — the worst offensive team in the league with the fourth-worst defense. When Boston started to make a push, the Suns began to freeze up and tried to eat the clock. Devin Booker did what he could to stave off Boston (and it was almost enough), but Boston got a last-second triple from Marcus Morris to send the game into overtime and set up the dramatic win.
The same might not happen in Utah or Portland, where the Celtics close their road trip. Boston didn’t get away with spotty performances against the Denver Nuggets or Indiana Pacers, and they will need a lot more as the season progresses, despite Kyrie Irving’s assurances the team will be fine.
Last year’s Celtics built an identity on rallying late, and Thursday’s game felt familiar. But rallies aren’t really a way to build a sustainable contender.
“It shouldn’t take us to get down 20, 25 points to make us play our best basketball,” Smart said. “Great teams, they do it from the start, all the way, 48 minutes. And we’ve got to get to that.”