Late miscues cost Celtics at buzzer in Phoenix
PHOENIX — No one is staging a palace coup to remove Isaiah Thomas from his throne or anything, but the King of the Fourth and his Celtics had themselves a time to regret in the final seconds yesterday.
After a brilliant comeback — led, of course, by Thomas — the Celts were on the precipice of victory without starters Avery Bradley (rest) and Al Horford (elbow). But some missed free throws, a fumbled inbounds pass and a Tyler Ulis 3-pointer at the buzzer ended their reign and gave the Phoenix Suns a 109-106 triumph.
“We should have won,” said Thomas, who scored 14 of his 35 points in the final frame. “But they hit a crazy shot. We turned the ball over at the end, and if you turn the ball over on the road, things like that happen. We have to do a better job of finishing games and we didn’t do that tonight. So that’s why we lost.”
There were a number of reasons why the Celtics were even in this tenuous a position against the team with the third-worst record in the NBA, but the game was in their hands when Thomas went to the free throw line with 11.9 seconds and the C’s ahead, 105-104. Make both shots and the Suns would need a trey to tie, but Thomas hit just the second of the pair.
Then it got a little crazy. Eric Bledsoe, benefiting from the Celts’ fear of fouling, made a nice drive to the hoop to tie the game with four seconds left.
With no timeouts left, Jae Crowder then inbounded the ball to Thomas, who fumbled it under pressure from Marquese Chriss as he turned to move up the floor. Then a little guy won the game, only this time it wasn’t Thomas.
Ulis, generously listed at 5-foot-10, collected the loose ball and drilled his only 3-pointer of the night, a twisting effort from the right wing to cap a 20-point evening.
“I thought Jae would get it off quicker than he would,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if he was looking to see if we had a timeout or what he was looking to do. Not saying it was his fault, but when I looked down, I thought he would get it out quicker so we could go, and then I looked away, looked back and Marquese Chriss was right there. He got a hand on it. I couldn’t get full control of it.
“I don’t know what we were up but we should have won the game. We just made a terrible turnover at the end. The basketball gods were on their side tonight. He hit a crazy shot. It happens sometimes.”
Crowder fell on the sword in his explanation after mentioning the missed opportunities that included 11-of-40 shots from the line for the game.
“We missed a lot of free throws in the clutch,” said Crowder (16 points, 10 rebounds). “We should have put the game away a long time ago, and they came down and executed and tied the game. Miscommunication on my end. I should have threw the ball into IT probably a little earlier. I put him in a bad situation, and we lost the game.”
The Celts put themselves in a bad situation earlier. They started off well, making six of their first nine shots and leading by 10 less than five minutes into the game. But they proceeded to make just seven of their next 36 attempts, allowing the Suns to gain a large lead and confidence.
The C’s trailed by as many as 15 in the third quarter before Terry Rozier ended that inning with a pair of 3-pointers to make it a four-point game. Thomas re-entered with 9:27 left and the C’s down three. He then shot his club back in front with three free throws and two 3-pointers, but soon the teams were trading the lead on seemingly every trip up the floor.
Thomas put the Celts up, 101-100, on a drive at 1:26, but Alan Williams got it back for the Suns. Crowder rolled down the lane and scored while taking a hit from Williams at 41.6. He made the freebie for a 104-102 edge.
Marcus Smart pressured Devin Booker into a miss, and Jaylen Brown made one of two from the line with 20.7 seconds left. Bledsoe drove to make it a one-point game with 13.7 on the clock.
Thomas then went to the line to begin the aforementioned sequence.
“Obviously you don’t want to turn it over at that time, but those things happen and Ulis made a heck of a shot,” coach Brad Stevens said. “That game was in the balance, and that’s one of the things why you say you want to control what you can control up to that point.
“The second quarter was as bad as I think I’ve seen us play .?.?. So there were a lot of moments throughout the game.”
Moments the Celtics were hoping to put behind them as they headed for the airport for a return to Los Angeles and a meeting tonight with the Clippers.