Suns on the Rise After Learning Lesson From C’s in November

BOSTON – Six weeks ago, the Boston Celtics stormed back from a 22-point deficit to beat the Phoenix Suns in overtime at Talking Stick Resort Arena. In all of that time, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov hasn’t been able to get the demoralizing loss out of his head.

“I still get nightmares thinking about that game,” the first-year head coach admitted to reporters ahead of Wednesday night’s rematch at TD Garden.

Those nightmares likely include Boston’s 24-8 run to close out the fourth quarter, Marcus Morris’ game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation, and Kyrie Irving’s offensive eruption at the beginning of overtime.

But with those negative memories aside, Kokoskov actually believes that the loss, as a whole, was a beneficial obstacle for his young team to face.

“Individually and collectively as a group, we spent a lot of time watching (film from that game) and learning how to manage a game, how to close a game,” said Kokoskov. “Unfortunately it was painful, but it was a good learning experience for us.”

It appears that the learning experience has paid off, of late. Following a league-worst 4-24 start, the Suns have reeled off three consecutive victories for what is now their longest winning streak since the 2016-17 season.

Their wins included a 10-point triumph over Dallas, an eight-point win over Minnesota, and, most recently, an 18-point victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

All three of those games featured big leads for Phoenix, and unlike in the Celtics game, it was able to hang on each time.

“We see what can happen if we pay attention to detail and come out with energy and effort,” said Suns leading scorer Devin Booker. “I wouldn’t even say we played our best basketball over these three wins. We just came out and fought hard.”

Where the Suns have fought their hardest has been on the defensive end. Phoenix held two of its last three opponents to less than 100 points, after accomplishing that feat only once during its previous 28 outings.

“We’re just executing,” said Booker. “We’re playing with high energy, we’re talking, communicating a lot more. And see what happens when we do that? We look a lot better.”

Gaining such confidence can take a while for a youthful team like the Suns, whose roster features eight players under the age of 23. They’ve relied on their coaching staff and veterans, such as 38-year-old Jamal Crawford, to help build that confidence over time.

“Jamal says it’s just about finding a way to win,” Booker relayed. “That’s what the good teams do in this league: ‘No matter how you guys are playing, who you’re playing against, just find a way.’”

The Suns have found a way in three straight games now, and part of that is thanks to the lesson that the Celtics taught them back on Nov. 8. That lesson is one that they will carry into tonight’s rematch, should they gain another large lead.

“I think since then, we’ve been in a lot more situations of playing with a lead and teams trying to come back and us not getting complacent,” said Booker. “So, if we’re up, we’ve just gotta finish the game off, because a talented team like [the Celtics] can come back and win a game.”

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