PHOENIX – Much of the talk the past couple of days among Celtics players and coaches was how the first game following the All-Star break would afford them a new start on a season that's not totally lost.
But the matchup Wednesday night with the Phoenix Suns had the look and feel of so many games played by the Celtics this season.
They played well in spurts, but failed to deliver when it counted most.
And like so many previous games this season, this good effort was not good enough as the Suns handed Boston a 100-94 loss.
Trailing by three with mere seconds on the clock, a Rajon Rondo driving lay-up was off the mark but rebounded by Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger missed his put-back attempt, which eventually led to free throws for former Celtic Gerald Green.
Green made both free throws and finished with 17 points, less than 24 hours after a career-high 36 points at Denver.
Boston (19-36) has lost three of its past four, all to Western Conference teams.
Rondo had a double-double of 18 points and 10 assists, in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. Brandon Bass, the subject of trade rumors for the past couple of weeks, delivered one of his stronger games this season in finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds.
For the Suns, Markieff Morris had 18 points off the bench while should-have-been All-Star Goran Dragic chipped in 17 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Boston fell behind by as many as 10 in the fourth, but came within two (88-86) following a 3-pointer by Kelly Olynyk with less than four minutes to play.
Phoenix would not allow the Celtics to get any closer.
The down-to-the-wire finish wasn't all that surprising when you consider the Celtics played from behind most of the night, but were within striking distance the entire game.
After scoring nine of the last 13 points in the second quarter, the Celtics had pulled within 52-50 at the half.
Boston's surge continued in the third as Rondo and Bass played a bit of two-man basketball as the Celtics opened with a 16-4 run that included Rondo and Bass either scoring or assisting on 14 points during the spurt.
The turn-around by Boston stemmed from their ability to slow the game down and force the Suns to play defense for longer periods of time.
But Phoenix, one of the true feel-good stories in the NBA this season, continued to go cold from the field as Rondo continued to penetrate and probe the Suns' interior.
Dragic did his part to keep Phoenix from completely falling off with a 3-pointer that cut Boston's lead to 70-64.
Dragic's scoring seemed to ignite the Suns' defense which immediately forced a Rondo turnover.
From there, Phoenix closed out the third quarter with a 12-1 spurt to lead 76-71 going into the fourth quarter.