"I don't think the (Celtics) really took us out of our rhythm," said O'Neal. "I just think when you're playing a team like the Celtics in their building, you really can't make a lot of mistakes."
The Suns committed 21 turnovers and hit just four 3-pointers, which caused them to fight an uphill battle.
All-Star point guard Steve Nash had an off night with only 12 points and nine assists. That unusually poor stat line for Nash was another reason for Phoenix's struggles. On the flip side, Boston floor general Rajon Rondo was solid with 14 points and six assists on 7 of 12 shooting. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce combined for 57 points.
The Suns battled out of a 13-point deficit after the first quarter to tie the game at 57-57 at the half with O'Neal (10 points, five rebounds) leading the way.
"Shaq gave Phoenix that physicality that they wanted tonight," said Cassell. "He brought them back when they were down. He's a force."
With 11 games left in the regular season, O'Neal will most likely be playing 30-plus minutes a night with the Suns fighting for a playoff spot (they are currently No. 6 in the tightly-packed West). However, Perkins doesn't expect the 36-year-old Shaq to get tired.
"He has the stamina," said Perkins. "I think he is in great shape. He is still powerful and a force to be reckoned with."
In fact, Perkins took it a step further and pointed to the possibility that these two teams may see each other again down the line. Think June.
"I think the Suns are still trying to find their identity," Perkins said. "But once they do, watch out. They're going to be tough in the playoffs."
Matt Langone is an Eagle-Tribune sportswriter.
Celtics 117, Suns 97