BOSTON — Brandon Bass was careful with his words, not wanting to say anything he might regret.
“I’ve got to watch the film,” Bass said. “I don’t want to just say what I think and let my emotions get past me. I’ve got to go watch the film and see what we were doing out there, and maybe what I could’ve done to help us more.”
Bass and the Boston Celtics had just coughed up an 87-80 defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Friday in a game they were positioned to win. Despite playing sloppily for most of the game, the Celtics (22-44) led by as many as five points in the fourth quarter, but went scoreless over the final 3:18 as the Suns (37-28) stole a victory.
“We didn’t play with any poise,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, whose team still had a chance to take the lead with 54.1 seconds remaining. “That was probably the biggest thing.”
The Celtics were kind of a mess over the last two minutes. The game was decided on an and-one tip-in by Suns center Alex Len after a defensive breakdown. Stevens even called a timeout with one second on the shot clock and the game tied at 80-80, leading to a 20-foot fadeaway by Rajon Rondo, to try to generate some sort of offensive cohesion. There was no saving the Celtics on a night like this, however, much to their frustration.
“We just didn’t do a good job of executing plays down the stretch,” Rondo said. “It wasn’t just the last possessions. It was the entire game. We rushed a lot of our shots. We didn’t do a bad job of taking care of the ball. It’s just, our shots didn’t fall. Give Phoenix the credit.”
Humphries angrily threw down his towel and bolted off the court when the final buzzer sounded. When he entered the locker room a half-hour after the game, still wearing his game uniform, there was concern that he could be a very angry 6-foot-9, 235-pound man. After all, he had played only 1:08 in the fourth quarter despite leading the Celtics with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
It turned out Humphries’ extended absence from the locker room had nothing to do with his early exit from the court. He had simply been picked for one of the NBA’s random drug tests, and he’d spent close to 30 minutes trying to give the league a, er, sample.
“They grabbed me while I was walking back to the locker room,” Humphries said. “I didn’t hear Brad’s speech or anything after the game.”
Humphries was one of the few Celtics whose performance didn’t need enhancing. He shot 5-of-8 from the field, making him the only Celtic to hit more than half his shots on a night his team shot 30.9 percent.
Widely predicted to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, the Suns have ruined everybody’s bracket. They sit outside the crowded Western Conference playoff picture at the moment, but there is little question that coach Jeff Hornacek and general manager Ryan McDonough are candidates for their respective awards.
That said, the league’s surprise team isn’t surprised by its performance. Not entirely.
“Yes and no,” center Channing Frye said. “I’ve got to be honest, I thought Ryan did a great job of bringing guys in that are not only hungry, but they want to buy into a system and fit into what we want to do. Everyone on this team is extremely unselfish. We love each other, we love playing for each other and with each other, and it’s been one of my favorite years to play, regardless of wins and losses.”
Words like those used to be uttered in Boston’s locker room. These Celtics clearly like each other, but their affection does not seem to go as deep as the Suns’ does. A few wins might help foster that chemistry, or perhaps it’s the other way around.