BOSTON -- The "Big Three" leading Boston to its latest victory was an unlikely bunch.
Jeff Green, Jason Terry and rookie Jared Sullinger carried the Celtics through a game of streaks, each outscoring their starting teammates as Boston recovered from a dreadful third quarter and held off the slumping Phoenix Suns 87-79 on Wednesday night.
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Green had 14 points, Terry scored 13 and Sullinger finished with 12 points and pulled down a career-best 16 rebounds as Boston's reserves outscored their Phoenix counterparts 47-16.
"They won the game for us basically. The bench played well. The starters didn't play good at all tonight," said Rajon Rondo, who had eight points and eight assists.
It was an emotional game for Green, who was playing exactly one year after having surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm.
"I can't put it into words. I mean, it's a wonderful day," said Green, who missed all of last season with the heart condition. "I reflect a lot on what I've been through and it's just a blessing and I'm glad I'm here."
Kevin Garnett was the only Boston starter to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds, and Paul Pierce had seven points and seven rebounds.
The Celtics survived a scoring drought that spanned almost half the third quarter. Boston scored just 14 in the period before rallying in the fourth against the road-weary Suns, who lost their 11th straight away from home.
"I think it would be a little bit easier to swallow if it would have been Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. At the end of the day it was their bench that really hurt us the most," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Celtics (18-17) have won four straight and are back above .500 for the first time since improving to 14-13 with a victory at Brooklyn on Christmas.
Marcin Gortat had 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Jared Dudley scored 14 while pulling down 10 boards for the Suns, who lost their fourth straight and fell to 2-16 on the road. Luis Scola scored 16 and Goran Dragic finished with 10 points for Phoenix, which gave the Celtics a scare in the third quarter with a 17-0 run.
The Suns were coming off a 108-99 loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday, when they were outscored 58-43 in the second half. The outlook wasn't good after the first half Wednesday with Boston leading 53-41, but the Suns responded with a torrid run early in the third quarter, shutting out Boston for 5:59. Dudley hit a 3-pointer and Gortat scored six during the spurt, putting back an offensive rebound that gave Phoenix a 56-55 lead with 6:59 left in the period.
Boston fans went silent at first as the big lead dwindled, then started booing as the Celtics continued to struggle. Rajon Rondo finally snapped the scoreless skid on a jumper with 5:42 left in the period, cutting Phoenix's lead to 58-57. The Celtics hadn't scored since Garnett's jumper 19 seconds into the third.
Boston regained enough composure to lead 67-64 after three then quickly took command by opening the final quarter with an 11-2 run. Terry started it with a 3-pointer and Garnett added four points before setting up Green for an alley-oop dunk to put Boston up 78-66 with 7:45 remaining.
"We always have lapses. Sometimes it happens early, sometimes it happens later," Scola said. "Even in the games we've won, we play this way."
Rondo returned from a one-game suspension for making contact with a referee and failure to cooperate with a league investigation. He finished with eight points and eight assists. ... Boston coach Doc Rivers was called for a technical late in the third period, then Rondo and Phoenix's P.J. Tucker drew dual technicals early in the fourth. ... The Celtics opened the game 4 for 11 from the floor and trailed 24-23 at the end of the first quarter, then shot 57 percent in the second quarter while outscoring Phoenix 30-17 in the period. ... The Suns committed seven turnovers in the second quarter ... Sullinger's previous high for rebounds was 11 against Toronto on Nov 17.