PHOENIX - The Suns finally found a thriller they couldn’t claim as their own.
After a series of hairraising wins, they fell 120-113 in overtime to the Boston Celtics Sunday night.
The loss dropped the Suns to 43-14 — percentage points behind San Antonio in the race for the league’s best record — and spoiled a career-high 20 rebounds by Shawn Marion.
"It seems like a wasted cause," Marion said after the Suns lost their first game (vs. 12 wins) at America West Arena vs. Eastern Conference teams.
Coach Mike D’Antoni drew the eighth technical foul of this testy game, and his first ejection as Suns coach (his second career ejection), for yelling at Boston’s Paul Pierce in the closing seconds.
Pierce had mimicked Quentin Richardson’s headthumping routine after making a free throw as the Celtics were wrapping up their win.
"They won," D’Antoni said. "That should be enough. Apparently, it wasn’t."
In general, D’Antoni suggested the game had "too much" talking and that the Suns got caught up in responding to an inferior team.
"We’re the best team in the league, and we responded to a subpar team.
"That’s our fault. That’s a lack of focus. We fell into a trap."
Said Pierce, "When we got in their face, we turned on our emotions. . . . and played a better game."
The Celtics’ emotions apparently go back to the thumping the Suns gave them last month in Boston.
The Suns rolled up 74 points in the first half, and — according to the Celtics — weren’t bashful about talking about it.
As an example of the talk, Pierce yelled out early in the game, "They’ve won as many championships as we have: None!"
Aside from all this, the Suns’ best chance to win probably died midway through the third quarter when Amaré Stoudemire (27 points in 25 minutes) picked up his fourth and fifth fouls within 14 seconds.
D’Antoni acknowledged he didn’t know Stoudemire had four fouls.
"It snuck up on me. By the time I could get someone off the bench, he picked up his fifth foul, and that put us in a hole."
Stoudemire re-entered the game early in the fourth quarter and soon headed for the bench for the night when he was called for blocking.
"I already had five fouls," he said. "You’d think they’d let me slide on one."
As for Boston, Antoine Walker — in his second game back with the Celtics — had a game-high 33 points, though he took 32 shots to do it.
Two of the game’s key plays were made by the obscure Delonte West.
The point guard hit a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 111-109 lead with 1:56 left in overtime, then came up with a big offensive rebound to help the Celtics hold on.
The Suns will do their "homework" on Gary Payton if the future Hall of Famer becomes available this week, D’Antoni said.
Payton, recently traded from Boston to Atlanta as part of the Antoine Walker trade, is expected to be released by the Hawks.
D’Antoni has expressed some skepticism in the past about bringing in a highprofile player late in the season.
But in a case such as Payton’s, he said, "He’s a veteran guy. And we have higher expectations now, rather than waiting for next season."
The Suns, however, aren’t believed to be the frontrunners for Payton. The Miami Heat would seem to have the inside track.
The Denver Nuggets also are believed to be interested, and the Celtics are angling to bring him back to Boston.
MARION FOR MVP
Even before Saturday night’s game in Dallas, where Shawn Marion made the game-winning block in the final seconds, D’Antoni detailed Marion’s contributions at length. He even suggested, "Shawn may be our MVP.
"He’s been able to go from the ‘three’ to the ‘four’ position, and he averages 11 rebounds. We don’t run plays for him, and he averages almost 20 points."
That other teams must guard him closely allows Stoudemire to attack the hoop, he pointed out.
"Without Shawn Marion, we’d be a different team. We wouldn’t have the numbers we do."
At the other end, Marion also often defends the opponent’s most dangerous player, he added. All in all, "He’s kind of overlooked."
SUNS KEEP SCORING
Since scoring a season-low in a home loss to Memphis on Jan. 19, the Suns have averaged nearly 118 points over their last 17 games.
Over this time, they’ve increased their leagueleading scoring average from 107.7 points to 110.6.
In the past three games, without Steve Nash, they’ve averaged 118.3 points.
D’Antoni expects Nash to be ready to play Thursday, at home vs. Detroit. The game is set for 8:30 p.m. . . . D’Antoni, reacting to the controversy over whether Nash should have played in the All-Star game, pointed out players must be available for at least a token appearance or else they must go on the injured list (and miss five games) after the break. . . . The Celtics are 2-0 with Antoine Walker. "They feel they’re energized by having him back," Richardson said.