Throughout the first five games of the season the Phoenix Suns were clearly finding themselves, looking like a shell of the free-flowing, explosive team that characterized them for so many seasons.
But fresh off a double-overtime win over the Grizzlies, the offensive chemistry finally came full circle.
Despite the new faces, Phoenix looked like the Suns of old on their way to a 118-114 road victory Sunday afternoon over the formerly undefeated Atlanta Hawks, a team that had won 14 straight at home.
Steve Nash returned to distributor mode with his first double-digit assist game of the season (19 points, 15 assists), the Suns knocked down 11-of-23 three-pointers, scored their second-most points all season (the most through four quarters) and even blew a 18-point third quarter lead in typical Phoenix Suns fashion.
But despite yielding 64 second-half points and giving Atlanta hope, Nash and the Suns did just enough when it mattered most to fend off the surging Hawks and move to .500 on the season.
Outside of their convincing win over Utah, Sunday’s victory was Phoenix’s most complete game of the season, against the second-best opponent its faced nonetheless.
Six different Suns players scored in double figures and as a team they shot 55.6 percent from the field against an Atlanta squad that allowed an eighth-best 96 points per game and 43.7 percent shooting from the field coming into the game.
“It’s a good win for us. Obviously they are a very good team. They’re playing great,” head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “For them to come back like they did and for us to maintain our poise was very important.”
The Suns came to play Sunday, but the win certainly didn’t come easily. After missing their first 12 three-pointers of the game, the Hawks caught fire in the third quarter, knocking down six threes (three from Mike Bibby alone) in the last 4:52 to cap off a 38-point quarter that ended on a 27-11 Atlanta run.
Behind that barrage of threes, Atlanta turned an 18-point deficit into a 90-88 Suns lead and carried that momentum into the fourth quarter.
Joe Johnson (34 points, seven rebounds, six assists), Jamal Crawford (11 points) and Al Horford (30 points, 10 rebounds) combined for 22 of Atlanta’s 26 fourth-quarter points as the Suns traded baskets for the better part of 12 minutes.
The Hawks clawed back and finally tied the game up at 106 with 2:29 remaining in the game, but Jason Richardson (21 points) hit a jumper, Grant Hill (14 points, six rebounds) drilled two free throws and Nash nailed a 17-footer on Phoenix’s next three possessions to give the Suns some breathing room.
The Hawks still wouldn’t go away, however, as they tied it up at 112 with 42 seconds to go. But the Suns found Channing Frye on the block with Bibby defending him, and after a few dribbles Frye drop stepped into an easy 11-footer off the glass that gave the Phoenix a 114-112 lead.
Atlanta had one last chance with 24.7 seconds remaining, but the Suns finally got their first stop since the 5:03 mark as Johnson missed a runner from nine feet out with eight seconds to play.
Nash iced the game with four straight free throws as the Suns handed the Hawks their first loss of the 2010-11 season and their first home loss in 15 games, breaking what was the league’s longest home win streak.
Atlanta manhandled the Suns in the paint all game long and fought back against a clearly sub-par Phoenix defense, but the Suns overcame the Hawks’ superior size and left A-Town with a win and a ton of positives moving forward.
They finally looked in sync and played like a unit offensively. Nash wasn’t forced to score and created open look after open look for his running mates, while turning it over only twice. The team as a whole totaled 28 assists, after coming into the game ranked 20th in the league in that department, averaging only 19.8 helpers per contest.
“The biggest thing is cohesion,” Nash told The Associated Press. “It’s just going to take a little time. … I think we’re getting better. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting better.”
Yes, the Suns were simply knocking down shots they missed throughout the course of the first five games, but the spacing and offensive flow looked much improved against an above-average Atlanta defense.
While the starters played well, the bench was again outstanding, combining for 46 points. Jared Dudley led the way with 15 points and six rebounds, including a coast-to-coast finish in the second quarter that brought smiles to the Suns’ bench. Josh Childress also impressed with 11 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes.
This was the epitome of a team win for the Suns and between Friday’s gut-check victory over Memphis and this victory over an Eastern Conference contender, the Suns are finally gelling and showing flashes of how good they can be.
Robin Lopez was underwhelming for the third consecutive game, scoring seven points but grabbing only one rebound in 17 minutes. Lopez has only eight rebounds in his last three games and Frye, who played 29 minutes, is becoming the more reliable center … Although he didn’t take over the game by any means, Hedo Turkoglu followed up his 18-point performance against Memphis with an impressive 11-point, four-assist, four-rebound performance. He didn’t disappear in the offense, knocked down open threes (3-of-6) and even drilled a driving pull-up jumper over Bibby … In his first game in Atlanta since 2008, Childress was welcomed by boos from the Hawks crowd. He faced the boos every time he touched the ball and told The Republic, “I didn’t expect it. I played here for four years. Every single night I played with maximum energy and effort. I don’t think fans realized the business side of it. They don’t know what went on in negotiations. If they felt they need to boo me, so what? I wish them well.” … On the Suns postgame show, Childress explained that Frye must wear Stanford gear for a week as a result of the Stanford-Arizona football game. … Horford completely dominated the Suns’ interior defense, shooting 13-of-16 and scoring at will. “I don’t think anybody in the league works harder than Horford does on either end of the floor,” Gentry said. “Whatever they signed him for, it’s a bargain. He’s a stud.”
Channing’s go-ahead bucket