3/5 Game Preview: Celtics at Suns
Having beaten an Eastern Conference playoff hopeful and Western postseason probable in back-to-back games, the Phoenix Suns step up the competition another notch when they host one of the top teams in the East, the Boston Celtics, on Sunday.
Riding two dominant performances by a new-look reserve crew, the Suns surprised the Charlotte Hornets 120-103 and Oklahoma City Thunder 118-111 on Thursday and Friday to create just their fourth two-game winning streak of the season.
They have never won three in a row this year.
The consecutive-night wins earned the Suns a new distinction on the eve of the Celtics' visit -- at 20-42, they no longer have the worst record in the Western Conference. That now belongs to the Los Angeles Lakers (19-43), who suffered their 43rd loss Friday night at the hands of the Celtics, 115-95.
A big reason for the Suns' rise in the Western rankings has been the play of Alan Williams off the Phoenix bench.
The second-year power forward had totaled 41 points in his previous 44 games before exploding for 16, 17, 11, 16 and 14 off the bench in his last five, producing three double-doubles along the way.
The Phoenix native got a particular joy out of his 14-point, 13-rebound effort against Oklahoma City on a night the Suns were honoring longtime radio voice Al McCoy.
"That's for you, Al," Williams shouted in McCoy's courtside direction in the final seconds of the win.
"It's not often you can write a script like this," Williams told reporters afterward. "I grew up listening to Al. Getting a chance to get to know him these past couple years has been truly special for me."
With Williams and rookies Tyler Ulis and Derrick Jones Jr. leading the way, the Suns' backups have outscored their Hornets and Thunder counterparts by a total of 108-45 in the last two games.
In Boston, the Suns will be facing another team on a two-game winning streak. The first of the two for the Celtics was a 103-99 home win over Cleveland that closed the gap between the top two teams in the East.
The Celtics headed west for a five-game trip following the Cleveland win, and started it off in impressive fashion in Los Angeles.
Sunday's game will serve as a homecoming for Celtics star Isaiah Thomas, who played 46 games for the Suns during the 2014-15 season after having been dealt by the Sacramento Kings.
Caught up in a logjam of point guards with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, Thomas averaged just 15.2 points per game in 25.7 minutes for the Suns before they traded him to the Celtics in February of 2015 for the bargain price of Marcus Thornton and a first-round pick.
"It's like they gave me a Christmas gift by sending me away," Thomas told the Boston Globe of the trade.
Thomas has played in Phoenix twice since the transaction, scoring 21 points in 2015 and 28 points last season. The Celtics won both games.
Phoenix and Boston will be meeting for the first time this season Sunday.