Irving scores 19 as Celtics hold off Suns
BOSTON — The first thing the Boston Celtics did Saturday was hold Devin Booker under 70 points.
The second was they held on to defeat Booker and the Phoenix Suns 116-111 to go to 20-4 on the season.
Booker, who scored 70 in a TD Garden loss last March, scored 38 points before fouling out in the final minutes the Celtics moved to 10-2 at home and 20-2 in their last 22 games overall.
Asked after the game what the Celtics needed to do to stop Phoenix, star guard Kyrie Irving, who scored five of his 19 points in the final 1:53, said, “Stop Devin Booker, honestly.”
Said Celtics guard Jaylen Brown: (Booker) doesn’t have a conscious — he can shoot with no remorse. He can let it fly whenever he wants and he’s really good. He has the green light and that’s what makes it tough.”
Booker is averaging 30.8 points per game against Boston.
The Suns (8-16) had cut a late eight-point deficit down to two when Irving calmly drained a 3-pointer with 1:53 left to start a crazy finish that saw the home team hold on. Brown called Irving “Mr. Fourth Quarter” after the game.
Booker, who scored 51 of his 70 points in the second half in March, fouled out after hitting a 3-pointer to bring his team to within three with 17.6 seconds left.
Marcus Smart hit four straight free throws to help put the game on ice for Boston (20-4).
The Celtics, playing the second game of a four-game homestand, used an 18-2 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to take control of the game, but the feisty Suns battled back.
“It’s hard when you take a loss, but I think it’s a lot that we can build on, from the film,” said veteran Tyson Chandler, who had a season-high 18 rebounds and 14 points in the loss. “I honestly think it was one of our better games this year.”
Brown and Marcus Morris scored 17 points apiece, while Jayson Tatum had 15 points and six rebounds. Al Horford had 14 points, a career-high 11 assists and five rebounds. Smart added 13 points, seven assists and seven rebounds off the bench. Irving had five of Boston’s 32 assists (on 42 baskets).
“We put ourselves in a bad spot after that fourth-quarter run,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought we were doing a great job at the end of the third quarter, start of the fourth, pushing that lead out, but that’s how quickly it goes.
“Kyrie had to make some big plays. Jayson had to make some big plays. Marcus had to make it free throws. I mean, we had a lot of things that we had to do to close that out. But Kyrie’s ability to make those shots with very little space is pretty impressive.”
The Celtics are 7-0 in Horford double-doubles this season. Asked about his assist high, he said, “Just trying to play through our offense, trying to push the pace. We wanted to make sure we had some good ball movement.
“We want to continue to get better as a group moving the ball, and I think today we took a big step in that direction.”
T.J. Warren scored 19 points in the loss for Phoenix — the Suns went just 7-for-24 from 3-point range while Boston was 14-for-31.
Booker, who left the game in the first quarter after banging right knees with Brown, returned and finished 16-for-29 from the floor.
“Every time you step in a building of this (history), you get that feeling,” he said. “It kind of reminds you of that Madison Square Garden, Staples Center feel where it’s just, you can feel the rich history coming through here.
“Me growing up a big fan of the game just watching all the battles that have been in Boston my whole life and before my life. You know there’s some rich tradition here.”
NOTES: Phoenix C Alex Len, averaging 8.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game off the bench, was out with an ankle injury. ... Phoenix interim coach Jay Troiano on Boston counterpart Brad Stevens: “He was one of the first coaches to text (me) when I got the opportunity here. We’re on a board of directors here in Boston for a program called ‘Shooting Touch.’ “ ... Suns rookie F Josh Jackson said a misunderstanding between him and his agent led to snubbing Celtics president Danny Ainge for a workout in Sacramento. “The day they were supposed to come in I wasn’t aware, and wasn’t prepared,” he said. “So I’m not going to work out if I’m not prepared.” He heard boos during the game. ... The Suns continue their road trip at Philadelphia Monday while the Celtics wrap up their three-game season series with the Milwaukee Bucks the same night.