It wasn't pretty, but the Celtics got the job done against the Portland Trail Blazers, winning 88-78 in the first game of their four-game West coast road trip on Thursday night.
Boston looks to notch its second straight road win tonight when it faces Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns at 10:30 p.m. EST at U.S. Airways Center (TV/Radio: ESPN, CSNNE/WEEI).
This is the first meeting between the two teams this season, and the Suns won both games against the Celtics last year. Boston lost the first match-up with Phoenix last season, 110-103, at TD Garden on November 6th. The Celtics also dropped their next game against the Suns on December 30th, losing 116-98.
Recent history is on the Suns' side as well, as Phoenix has topped Boston in seven of the last 10 meetings. In addition, the Celtics have lost 10 of their last 14 games in Arizona.
In their win over the Trail Blazers last night, Boston (35-10) had 21 turnovers and 18 fouls. Paul Pierce scored 17 points and had four assists before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with a right thigh injury. Ray Allen had 18 points and Rajon Rondo added 11 points and five assists.
While the Celtics' numbers weren't pretty, the Trail Blazers faired far worse, finishing with a 36.7% field goal percentage and 15 turnovers. Despite the sloppy play, Portland kept itself in the game until the final minutes.
"[Portland] played extremely hard tonight, and you knew they would (by) reading the papers about how physical they were going to be with us," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "When we read that we actually like it. That means [the game] is going to be played our way." (via SB Nation/Sports Network)
Through the midway point of the season, Pierce is the Celtics' leading scorer with 19 points per game. Allen is second in scoring, averaging 17.3 points, and Kevin Garnett (10 points, nine rebounds, nine assists vs. Portland) averages 14.9 points and a team-best 8.9 rebounds.
Boston has been bolstered by the return of Kendrick Perkins, who scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds in his first game back from a devastating knee injury he suffered during Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Perkins had 10 points and nine rebounds on Thursday night against the Trail Blazers.
The Celtics are also expected to have Shaquille O'Neal back in the lineup tonight. O'Neal missed the last two games with a minor hip injury. Considering that Jermaine O'Neal is out for another few weeks, the additions of Shaq and Perkins are big (literally and figuratively) for Boston.
Phoenix (20-24) has lost its last three games and is 6-7 in the month of January. In their last game, a 114-107 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday, Steve Nash had 27 points and 15 assists and Vince Carter added 22 points and six boards.
"It was a tough loss," Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry said. "We didn't execute and complete plays very well. We have to find a way to dig ourselves out of this. I told the guys in the locker room that we are the only ones who can do that." (via SB Nation/Sports Network)
Nash, a two-time league MVP, leads Phoenix in scoring (17.3 PPG) and assists (11 APG). Carter, who was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Suns in mid-December, is averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in 15 games in Phoenix. Grant Hill is third in scoring, averaging 14.5 points, and also averages 4.9 rebounds.
Following Friday night's game, Boston heads to Los Angeles for a rematch of the 2010 NBA Finals. Phoenix will host New Orleans in its next game on Sunday evening.