PHOENIX (AP) _ Larry Bird scored 27 points and Kevin Gamble added 21 Wednesday night as the Boston Celtics defeated the cold-shooting Phoenix Suns 117-111.

The Celtics built a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter and then withstood a rally to send the Suns (3-5) to their worst start since 1987-88, when they finished 28-54 and out of the playoffs for the last time.

Tom Chambers scored a game-high 32, but he exemplified the Suns' problems with a 12-of-32 night from the field. Boston outshot the Suns 56 percent to 40 percent.

Bird, who was 13 of 17, opened the fourth quarter by making his only 3- point attempt, for a 92-75 lead.

The Celtics led by double-figure margins until Dan Majerle's 3-pointer from the corner with 3:52 left cut the margin to 103-96.

After Bird and Gamble answered Phoenix baskets, the Suns went on a 6-0 run to close to 107-104. But Kevin McHale, who scored 18 points, made a crucial play with 1:16 remaining when he rebounded a miss by John Bagley over the Suns' Jeff Hornacek and sank a two-handed shot for a 109-104 lead.

Reggie Lewis' three-point play with 53 seconds left gave Boston a 112-106 advantage.

Hornacek scored 25 points for the Suns and Majerle had 18.

Lewis added 16 points for the Celtics, who won their second straight road game despite giving up 14 turnovers to eight for the Suns.

The Celtics played without starting center Robert Parish, who was injured in a 126-103 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

The Suns, who lost to Golden State the previous night because of inability to make their free throws, went ice-cold from the field after taking a 26-20 lead with 2:53 left in the first quarter.

The quarter ended with Phoenix ahead 31-30, but the Suns made only three of their next 21 field-goal attempts.

Meanwhile, Bird completed a 27-11 surge with a scoop shot from eight feet for a 47-37 Boston lead.

Boston led 55-51 at halftime.

''It was a big win for us, because we have not been playing that well of late,'' Bird said. ''Tonight we came out hard and played good defense. They missed a lot of shots, and we were able to score a lot of points, which we usually do not do on the road.''

Boston coach Chris Ford credited Bagley, who put out a gritty defensive effort against Kevin Johnson of Phoenix, and reserve center Joe Kleine. Johnson scored 17 points but shot 35 percent.

''Our guys really sucked it up and played with a lot of pride,'' Ford said. ''Guys like John Bagley and Joe Kleine. Bagley did a great job staying in front of K.J. and got us into our running game. Kleine did a good job helping contain their point guards.''

Chambers, who has struggled all season with 44-of-127 (35 percent) shooting this season, said he was perplexed by the shots that wouldn't drop.

''We work, we get the open shots, and they don't go in - or we drive to the hole and the ball pops out,'' Chambers said.

''We are, without a doubt, struggling offensively,'' coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said. ''We are really struggling to put points on the board.''