AP NEWS

C’s partial eclipse of Suns

March 25, 2017 GMT

Phoenix has locked into tank mode, and as such regular starters Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler were all healthy scratches last night, which left only a shell of the team that bruised the Celtics’ ego at the beginning of the month in Phoenix.

The Celtics had no such trouble in last night’s 130-120 win over Phoenix at the Garden. It was their third straight win.

The Celtics maintained their position in the Eastern Conference chase, staying a game behind front-running Cleveland, which held on for a win in Charlotte last night.

Isaiah Thomas basked in the accelerated pace with 34 points on 10-for-20 shooting.

And in the relative vacuum created by so many Phoenix scratches and a one-sided score, Devin Booker picked up the scoring load for all the missing Suns with 70 points, which is the most ever by single player against the Celtics. The Suns’ young shooter was 21-for-40 from the floor and 24-for-26 from the line.

Booker’s closing act was hot enough — coming after a Gino victory video — that it forced Brad Stevens to put Thomas back on the floor in the last minute to protect the win.

The Celtics buried eight 3-pointers in the second quarter, including four from Gerald Green — one of those converted into a four-point play — and carried a 66-43 lead into halftime.

The Suns’ D-League-worthy roster considered, the Celtics had little trouble fleshing out their work in the third quarter, although the game already was developing a dangerous garbage-time nature.

But the up-and-down pace didn’t have much impact on the Celtics’ lead for most of the game, which tended to remain above 20 points through the third quarter.

Jae Crowder’s three-point play with 2:59 left in the third was good for a 91-70 lead.

Booker, who had 42 of the Suns’ 80 points by the end of the third, crammed 11 into the last 3:47 of the third, though it barely made a dent.

The Celtics still led 97-80 at the start of the fourth.

A certain amount of sloppiness was inevitable, but five straight points from old friend Leandro Barbosa cut the Celtics’ lead to 99-87. Booker’s three-point play 37 seconds trimmed it further at 101-90.

Stevens inserted the bench-ridden Jonas Jerebko for an energy boost, and after Thomas hit his third 3-pointer of the night, the Swedish forward drove for a 106-90 edge.

Thomas duped Tyler Ulis into a foul at the top of the arc, and with 8:15 left boosted the lead back up to 109-90.

Booker scored Phoenix’ first basket of the game 7:17 into the first quarter. The Celtics led, 22-3, by then, courtesy of a 14-0 run that included seven points from Jaylen Brown.

From a Suns offensive perspective, it was going to be all on Booker, who scored every point in the 9-2 Phoenix run triggered by his initial basket.

The Suns had nowhere to go but up, and actually outscored the Celtics 13-7 over the last 4:43 of the first quarter.

And still the visitors trailed, 29-16.

The Celtics expanded their lead early in the second quarter strictly on a 3-pointer diet, first with back-to-back bombs from Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Just over a minute later, Kelly Olynyk’s 3-pointer was good for a 38-19 lead.

The Celtics took their first 20-point lead of the night (41-21) on a Gerald Green 3-pointer.