By ROBERT LEE
Journal Sports Writer
BOSTON - Boston coach Doc Rivers has found different and unique ways to motivate the defending world champion Celtics this season.
Last night, in a game where the Celtics celebrated Martin Luther King Day with several video tributes, Rivers didn't have to.
The Phoenix Suns were the only team to beat the Celtics last season by leading from start to finish.
That was reason enough for Boston to put together one of their best games of the year.
The Celtics avenged that embarrassing loss by turning the table on the Suns. Boston dominated Pho enix in nearly every facet of the game en route to a decisive 104-87 victory.
The Suns never led.
"They're the champs and they're playing like it," Phoenix center Shaquille O'Neal said.
Phoenix coach Terry Porter said that the Suns have struggled with consistency on the defensive end of the floor this season, and last night was the just the latest example.
The Celtics were able to score every way they wanted to in their fifth straight victory.
They knocked down 47.9 percent of their shots from the field (45-for-94), but they were above 52 percent through the first three quarters before the bench players took over in the fourth.
With Boston starting center Kendrick Perkins (strained left shoulder) missing his fifth straight game last night, there was some concern with how putting Kevin Garnett on Phoenix 7-foot, 325-pound center Shaquille O'Neal would affect the Celtics offense.
As it turned out, there were no adverse effects.
The Celtics ran their offense through guards Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, who helped the Celtics jump out to a 30-point lead by halftime by combining for 37 first-half points.
That cushion was more than enough for the Celtics to coast in the second half. With the game in hand, Rivers decided to rest all of his starters in the fourth quarter except for Scalabrine (4 points), who started in place of Perkins.
Rondo had another big game against an opposing All-Star point guard. Steve Nash was his latest victim.
Rondo had his way against Nash, finishing with a game-high 23 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Nash had 12 points and eight assists for Phoenix.
"Nash is a great player," Rivers said. "...Every night I think his agenda is to make his teammates better and he does it every night. He does it some nights by scoring and passing and some nights he just decides he is going to be a ball mover and he does it."
Allen finished with 20 points and three assists while Pierce chipped in with 12 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds.
In addition to limiting O'Neal to 16 points and 11 rebounds, Garnett had a strong day offensively, compiling 16 points with eight rebounds.
"He's the type of player that can play all of the positions out there," O'Neal said of Garnett. "He's that great of a player and that great of an athlete."
The Celtics led by as much as 35 points in the rout.
It didn't take long for the Celtics to establish their dominance over Phoenix. By using good ball movement, forcing turnovers, and dominating the glass, the Celtics were able to jump out to a 30-15 lead by the end of the first quarter and a 64-34 advantage by halftime.
The Celtics knocked down 57.1 percent of their shots (28-for-49) in the first half. They scored 20 points on 15 first half turnovers.
Pierce scored the first four points of the game and the Celtics never looked back.
Glen Davis had nine points and nine rebounds off of the bench for Boston, and rookie guard Bill Walker scored a career-high seven points in five minutes of action in the fourth quarter.