Two nights after losing a high-scoring ballet to the Lakers, the Suns found themselves in the middle of the octagon Friday - rolling around US Airways Center with Boston in the kind a bare-knuckle basketball that in the past has rarely turned out well for them.
But the Suns have more weight and swagger to throw around these days and used it, overcoming 24 turnovers, 42 percent shooting and bouts with their composure to slug out an 85-77 win over the Celtics.
Boston still has the NBA's best record (41-12), but has lost three straight games for the first time all year.
With Shaquille O'Neal in the middle yanking down 14 rebounds, Amare Stoudemire was free to roam for a game-high 28 points, three blocked shots and at least as many skirmishes with Celtic foes Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
"We're not going to start anything, but we're not going to take it anymore either," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Steve Nash added 18 points and three of Phoenix's five 3-pointers in the game. The Suns moved back past the Lakers into the Pacific Division lead and within percentage points of Western Conference leader New Orleans, which was blown out at home by red-hot Houston.
Grant Hill had 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns, notching a double-double in back-to-back games for the first time in more than six years. Phoenix played all but 1:28 without Leandro Barbosa, who took a Garnett elbow over the right eye and did not return after experiencing headaches.
The first half featured 25 turnovers (15 by the Suns), 26 fouls and three stitches (to Barbosa).
The Suns used a 15-0 scoring run to go up 21-6 midway through the first quarter, then went almost 12 minutes without a field goal as the Celtics pulled within a point at 27-26.
Finally, Phoenix held on to the ball and finished the first half on a 16-4 run, taking a 43-30 lead to intermission. The Celtics got back within eight points in the second half but never seriously threatened.