PHOENIX – The defense wasn’t where Jeff Hornacek wants it, but the Phoenix Suns again ground out a game against a battered sub-.500 behind their offense.
Phoenix pulled away from the Atlanta Hawks, then relinquished a double-digit lead, then built it back up in the final moments in a 129-120 win where defense was hard to find but lights-out shooting and a relentless pace was a theme of the night for both squads.
Gerald Green scored 33 points, 15 off three-point buckets, and then capped his night with four big free throws as the Hawks tried to play a fouling game in the final minutes. Goran Dragic, with his entire family watching from the stands, added 19 points and eight assists, while Markieff and Marcus Morris combined for 39 points and 17 rebounds in what was probably their best combined game in Suns uniforms.
The Suns shot 55 percent overall, hit 15-of-24 from three but allowed Atlanta to hit 14-of-31 from deep on 52 percent shooting.
It wasn’t necessarily all their faults. Jeff Teague looked a lot like Dragic, and the spacing provided by a lineup of mostly shooters — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Pero Antic are injured — made it tough.
Teague had 29 points, nine dimes and six boards on 14-of-21 shooting, quite a Dragic-like stat line.
As has been the case for the last few games, Ish Smith was the difference-maker as the first guard off the bench. The starting unit’s sluggishness led to a 29-22 deficit for the Suns, but with the tempo ramped up, Smith led a team that finished the first quarter with a flurry. He remained on the court to give Dragic a break from the ball-handling duties in the second quarter, where the Suns outscored the Hawks 39-28 to take a 79-85 halftime lead – two points off the U.S. Airways Center record for points in a half.
Smith seems to have firmly etched his way into the rotation ahead of Archie Goodwin and Leandro Barbosa, though each played for a stint. Barbosa got late run and scored seven points, and newly-acquired forward Shavlik Randolph earned time, as expected, in the backup center position.
Atlanta hardly looked concerned about finding itself down by as many as 16. With less than two minutes to play in the third quarter, the Hawks pulled within one, 95-94, before the Suns closed out the quarter on a quick 7-1 run.
It went that way for the rest of the game, with Atlanta threatening thanks to Phoenix giving an injury-plagued team daylight to pull off an upset. But the Suns won, and they continue to survive with Eric Bledsoe’s return on the horizon.
Jeff Sanders had some pregame questions, and here are the answers.
Better effort defensively?
Phoenix led 79-65 at halftime, and it’d be pretty shocking if Jeff Hornacek had much good to say about the Suns’ defense. Phoenix hit 63 percent of its shots but gave up 62.5 percent accuracy to the Hawks, and about the only difference in the game to that point what the Suns hitting 12 three-point shots in the first half to Atlanta’s six.
The defense certainly got better in the second half, where the Suns held the Hawks below 44 percent in each quarter. In the fourth, Phoenix held Atlanta to 42.9 percent shooting and went 8-for-14 (57.1 percent) itself.
How does the “beat-up’ crew respond?
Goran Dragic’s ankle is probably still on the mend, and coach Jeff Hornacek also held out Gerald Green, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris from Saturday practice. Green was especially bouncy on Sunday. He’s always that, but it showed in his shooting legs, which propelled him to a 9-for-14 night once it was clear Atlanta’s defense was going to be even worse than that of the Suns. He hit 5-of-8 threes and went a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul stripe.
Kyle Korver’s streak
Korver’s three-point shooting streak was extended to 127 games early on, and in a game of so much offense, it was easy to see why that run continued. All he did was hit his six three-point shots he took before missing his final attempt.