The Associated Press
By BOB YOUNG
The Arizona Republic
Back on Dec. 5, when the Phoenix Suns stole a game with a 29-point rally in Boston, they said it might be the game that turned their season.
And it has turned – into a nightmare.
In a twist of painful irony to the Suns, the Celtics returned the favor last night at America West Arena, coming back from 17 points down in the third quarter to beat the Suns 104-102.
“The air just kind of went out of us,” said Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s something that’s happened to us this year a few times. We can’t quite get a handle on it yet.
“We just don’t finish games and have that killer instinct when we need it.”
Just as Boston did on its home court, the Suns disintegrated in a snowball of careless passes and missed shots in the third quarter.
The Suns turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter, and Boston quickly erased the deficit with a 19-2 run. The Celtics kept rolling behind Paul Pierce, who finished with 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, and took a seven-point lead with less than three minutes to play before the Suns made one last run.
They tied it twice in the final minute, the last time on Penny Hardaway’s three-point shot with 14 seconds to go. But Pierce found Ricky Davis for an 18-footer and a two-point lead with 2.8 seconds to go.
The Suns drew up a play for Stephon Marbury, who got open on a back cut, but he couldn’t handle Donnell Harvey’s bounce pass. The ball went out of bounds off the Celtics with two-tenths of a second to go, but the Suns were unable to score on a tip from out of bounds.
Spurs 98, Magic 83: At San Antonio, the Spurs used a late 15-0 run to break open a tight game and win their 12th straight.
Tim Duncan led San Antonio with 27 points and 16 rebounds, while Tony Parker added a season-high 22 points and Robert Horry had 14 – his high total with the Spurs.
Nets 82, Pistons 79: At Auburn Hills, Mich., Jason Kidd had 24 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds for his league-leading fifth triple-double as his team won.
Kidd shot 7 of 18, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, and ex-Arizona Wildcat Richard Jefferson scored 27 for the Atlantic Division-leading Nets, who have won eight of 10.
Warriors 98, Kings 91: At Oakland, Calif., Jason Richardson scored 25 and Nick Van Exel hit a running shot in the lane with 18.8 seconds left to seal the win.
Former Arizona Wildcat Mike Bibby scored 28 for Sacramento in the losing cause.
Bulls 87, Cavaliers 80: At Cleveland, Jamal Crawford matched a season-high with 30 points and Corie Blount made a huge block in the final minute for the Bulls.
Heat 92, Wizards 84: At Washington, Eddie Jones had 22 points and Rasual Butler added 10 in the fourth quarter as Miami won its third straight with a win over the Wizards.
Hornets 109, Hawks 79: At New Orleans, David Wesley scored a season-high 32, including five three-pointers, and the Hornets handed the Hawks their ninth straight road loss.
Knicks 96, Grizzlies 94: At Memphis, Tenn., Keith Van Horn scored 28 and grabbed 13 rebounds and Allan Houston added 23 points to secure the win.
Bucks 101, Pacers 96: At Milwaukee, Damon Jones got all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter to help the Milwaukee Bucks climb above .500 for the first time in more than six weeks.
Nuggets 95, Rockets 94: At Denver, rookie Carmelo Anthony scored a career-high 37 to lead Denver.
Jazz 97, Raptors 94, OT: At Salt Lake City, Andrei Kirilenko had 17 points and made several big plays in overtime – mostly with his defense against Vince Carter – for the win.
Clippers 101, 76ers 98: At Los Angeles, Quentin Richardson scored 22 and Elton Brand had 20 points and nine rebounds for the winners.
Trail Blazers 101, Timberwolves 92: At Portland, Ore., Jeff McInnis had 21 points to help the Blazers snap Minnesota’s six-game winning streak.
PHOTO CAPTION: The Associated Press
Celtics guard Paul Pierce (left) drives the lane as Suns forward Shawn Marion defends. Pierce had 27 points in the Celtics’ 104-102 win.