PHOENIX — The Celtics bounced back from Sunday’s loss by cruising to a 99-85 win over the Suns on Monday night.
The team received a scare when Marcus Smart had to be helped to the locker room after suffering a right ankle injury with 9:16 left in the fourth quarter, but there was not a great deal of concern afterward.
“The ankle is OK,” Smart said. “There wasn’t a lot of swelling. Minimal swelling for it where I’m able to walk. I’m able to still shift, and plant and move side to side so that’s good. I just re-irritated the exact same ankle I was just coming back from, in the exact same spot. But everything is OK, I should be fine to play the rest of the trip.”
Smart was running along the baseline on defense when he appeared to simply take a bad step. He immediately signaled to the bench and Brad Stevens called timeout so Smart could receive assistance. Prior to the injury, Smart had done an excellent job smothering Suns star Devin Booker.
With Gordon Hayward already out for about the next five weeks, a prolonged absence for Smart would have been be difficult for the Celtics to overcome. But Stevens did not rule out the possibility of Smart playing against the Clippers on Wednesday.
Jayson Tatum had 26 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Celtics and Kemba Walker added 19 points and 5 assists.
Observations from the night:
■ The Celtics seemed a bit unsettled after Smart left the game, and the Suns quickly sliced a 17-point deficit to 12, and had two possessions to get even closer. But Brad Wanamaker then settled Boston at the other end, hitting a runner and a 3-pointer before coming up with a steal and an assist, as the lead quickly stretched back to 92-73. Stevens had raved about Wanamaker’s steady play so far, and this was an example.
■ About 15 minutes before tipoff it was announced that Suns point guard Ricky Rubio would miss the game because of back spasms. It was a substantial loss for Phoenix because Rubio is averaging 13.6 points, 8.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds. His replacement, Jevon Carter, is a strong defender, but he did not have an impact on offense.
■ Before the game, Stevens jokingly tossed out a Kyle Korver comparison when discussing the 3-point shooting of former Celtic Aron Baynes, who entered the night shooting 46.8 percent from beyond the arc. He made just 1 of 5 3-pointers in this game, however.
■ Celtics fans remember Booker’s 70-point night at TD Garden three seasons ago. Well, that was not going to happen again. The Celtics swarmed the Suns star from all angles, constantly putting two defenders on him when he reached an area where he is dangerous. He attempted just 13 shots and finished with 20 points, 5.5 below his average.
■ Grant Williams did not play against the Kings on Sunday and he sat for the first 18 minutes on Monday. But he entered the game midway through the second quarter and was on the floor for Boston’s game-altering 23-6 run that flipped a 2-point deficit into a 57-42 halftime lead. Williams had a pair of big blocks and generally played strong interior defense. Williams was Boston’s first sub off the bench in the third quarter.
■ It’s possible that we won’t see a start like Monday’s again during the Celtics careers of Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Both players opened the game by air-balling 3-pointers, and both shots appeared to miss the rim by more than a foot.
■ The Celtics started the game by going just 1 for 10 with a turnover and they had just four points in the first 5 minutes, 30 seconds. That’s often the recipe for a hefty deficit, but the Suns didn’t do much to take advantage, as a 3-point play by Smart at the 6:23 mark pulled Boston within 8-7 and made the ugly beginning just a memory.
■ Just 2:11 into the game, Tatum collected his second foul. Most coaches respond to situations like this one by removing the player from the game for most, if not all, of the period. But Stevens has never really reacted this way, and it seems as if his approach is the best one. Why limit Tatum’s playing time just because there’s a worry he could eventually pick up more fouls, when he has four more to use and is generally not a high-foul player to begin with? The approach worked just fine, as Tatum did not collect another foul during the first half.
When Brown collected his fourth foul at the start of the third quarter, he stayed in, too.
■ There were several unusual plays in this game. One occurred with 6:48 left, when Brown was fouled as he drove to the basket for a layup. The referee ruled that the basket did not count, which would not be that odd on its own. But Brown got two free throws anyway, even though the Celtics were not in the penalty. The official ruled that although Brown was in the act of shooting, he traveled after the foul was committed, so the basket did not count.
■ Another weird first-quarter play: Enes Kanter bobbled the ball as he was starting a fast break and was whistled for a travel. It seemed like an odd call since Kanter never actually had possession, but it was ruled he had passed the ball to himself and then caught it.
■ Tatum attempted a season-high nine free throws and hit seven.