And it's on to LA

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And it's on to LA

LOS ANGELES For the first half of the first game of the second half of their season, the Celtics looked like that team.

You know that team. You love that team.

Early on, Boston pushed the ball last night in Denver. They moved the ball. They helped each other, trusted each other and were unselfish almost to a fault. They built a nine-point, second-quarter lead on the heavily-favored Nuggets, and as usual, it was beautiful.

But it didn't stick. Before long, Denver's younger, larger, deeper and more athletic roster wore down the Celtics attack. The Nuggets cut the lead to one by halftime, led by eight after three, and fought off a late Celtics comeback to pick up a 97-90 revenge victory.

And to that I say: Oh well.

What are you going do to?

On one hand, yeah this is a game the Celtics could have won. I mean, the score was tied with five minutes left, of course they could have won. Maybe even should have won. But before we get too bent out of shape, it's worth remembering that the Nuggets are a damn good team.

Despite their earlier loss to the Boston and their three straight losses overall the Nuggets are 34-21. They're the fifth seed in the West, but they'd have the second best record in the East. And last night, they were playing in front of their always impressive crowd, which was particularly rabid thanks to the losing streak and the fact that this was Denver's first home game since February 7.

It probably sounds like I'm making excuses for the Celtics here, and I probably I am, but they were nine-point underdogs last night. The Nuggets are 22-3 at home! A loss sucks, but it's still OK. To be honest, I'm just happy that Boston put themselves in a position to win at all. That unlike what we saw for most of the first few months they're in a position to win every game. That it appears they're done taking nights off and always ready to bring it, regardless of the opponent andor size of the TV viewing audience.

I don't want to congratulate them for this turn around, because "that's what you're supposed to do!" it's just good to see that maximum effort is once again a steady attribute of Boston Celtics basketball.

But in the NBA, sometimes effort doesn't matter. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where the other team is just better. Sometimes your best isn't good enough.

And sometimes you play the Lakers.

Truth be told, the deck is once again stacked against the Celtics tonight in LA where they're currently seven point underdogs. This is Kobe and friends' first home game since the break, but more importantly, it's their first home game since the death of Dr. Jerry Buss. There are going to be a ton of emotions running through the Staples Center and and not to trivialize things they're all going to be running against the Celtics.

Still, this is is the game the Celtics can win. A game they should win. And with the trade deadline just about 24 hours away, you wonder how much the outcome of tonight's game might shape Boston's short and long-term future.

You throw in the Dwight drama, the urgency on both sides, the general insanity of the Celtics-Lakers and that slight chance that this is the last time we see either Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Green and . . .

Things might get a little crazy.

I'll be at Staples Center, covering the game with A. Sherrod Blakely.

Hope that team will be there, too.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Highlights: Devin Booker puts up 70 points but Celtics get the win

Highlights: Devin Booker puts up 70 points but Celtics get the win

Highlights from the TD Garden as Devin Booker had a historic performance where he scored 70 points, but it wasn't enough to get the win over the Celtics.

Thomas on Suns: 'We’re worried about the playoffs; they’re worried about the lottery'

Thomas on Suns: 'We’re worried about the playoffs; they’re worried about the lottery'

BOSTON – Stacking wins on top of wins is the mindset of the Boston Celtics right now, so the players who did speak to the media following Friday’s 130-120 win over Phoenix drove that point home emphatically.

But inside the locker room, it was unusually quiet, the kind of silence you expect following a loss.

Considering how the Celtics’ defense was absolutely thrashed by Devin Booker’s franchise record 70 points, there’s no question at a minimum the Celtics’ pride overall was stung.

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And when Suns coach Earl Watson began calling time-outs and having his team commit fouls at the end of the game, there’s no question it rubbed a few Celtics the wrong way.

“I don’t think anybody has ever seen that; continuing to call time-outs, continuing to foul when we are up 15. But I mean, it was obvious what they were trying to do. They were trying to get him (Booker) the most points possible. Hat off to to him (Booker). He played a hell of a game.”

Following the game, Watson defended his late-game decision making.

“Calling time-outs at the end kept the game close,” he said. “It’s basketball; I’m not coming to any arena to be liked. If people don’t like us while we build … so what? Do something about it.”

The Suns (22-51) never came any closer than 10 points, which was the final score margin.

Al Horford acknowledged that there was some aggravation following the game.

“You can be frustrated when somebody is doing that to you,” he said. “It’s not to one guy, it’s to the team so I think we’re probably more aggravated at ourselves, at least personally I feel that way. I probably could have done a little better, maybe done some different things to prevent it. We got to give him credit, 70 points, I don’t care it’s 70, he got 70. It’s impressive.”

But there will be some inside the Celtics locker room and among their fan base, who were bothered by the Suns’ late-game actions which seemed more focused on Booker getting numbers than anything else.

When asked about being disrespected by the Suns’ late-game strategy, Thomas wanted no part of that conversation.

“It is what it is,” Thomas said. “We won the game. We’re worried about the playoffs; they’re worried about the lottery.”

 Boom!