The Boston Celtics have been in a tailspin of late, but you couldn't tell it from the fourth quarter of their latest loss.
Trailing 106-87 to the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, the Celtics roared back to get within four points with 38 seconds left before ultimately falling 128-123. The defeat was Boston's fifth in seven games, but coach Brad Stevens kept focused on what he saw in those final 12 minutes.
"That was more Celtics basketball than we've seen in a while," Stevens said.
Boston will look to carry that into its matchup against the visiting Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. The meeting will finish the season series between the teams. The Celtics won the first meeting 99-85 at Phoenix in November.
Boston has won eight of its last 10 against the Suns, who enter having won three of their last four games.
The Celtics might be tempted to overlook the Suns with a matchup against the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, but the memory of a blowout loss at home to the struggling, shorthanded Detroit Pistons a day before their game against the Bucks remains fresh.
The game in Milwaukee appeared headed in a similar direction before the fourth-quarter push, keyed by Kemba Walker, who scored nine points down the stretch to push his total for the game to 40 to go along with a season-high 11 rebounds.
"(He was the) only reason we had a chance," Stevens said. "He just willed himself to baskets."
Walker missed time with the flu earlier this month and had scored more than 20 points in just one of five games before Thursday. His return to form comes at a key time for the Celtics, as Jaylen Brown is questionable with a right thumb sprain that required further testing Friday.
Though the Suns are far from a threat in the West, they showed Thursday just how dangerous they can be in a 121-98 rout of the New York Knicks. Devin Booker led the way with 29 points. Deandre Ayton stole the show with a 26-point, 21-rebound double-double.
"Every game, he's taking tremendous strides," Booker said of Ayton, who missed time in his second season after a failed drug test. "I've been saying he's a couple of months behind us, and he's catching up quick. The way he defends, the way he runs the floor, how athletic he is. You can't teach those things. He's a freak of nature."
Ricky Rubio added 25 points and 13 assists as Phoenix enjoyed one of its most complete efforts of the season.
"We are only out there for one another," Ayton said. "Without team success, you are not going to reach your individual accolades. That is big on this team, and we feed off each other."
The Suns played Thursday without Kelly Oubre Jr. (concussion protocol) and he is questionable for Saturday's game. Aron Baynes will return to Boston with Phoenix on Saturday after playing the last two seasons with the Celtics.
-Field Level Media