Phoenix Suns 129, Atlanta Hawks 120 -- Speed burners

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.

  • EBJM

    Shavlik! McD does it again!

  • bill_thomas

    We need to defend these 3-pt. shooters better. When they’re clearly going well, we really need to use time outs or half-time to reconfigure and step it up.

    Very disappointing to see Atlanta with 2 of its 3 best players out, and little depth to speak of, stay with us all game and score that many points. Both perimeter and basket defense were awful.

    Why no minutes for Archie? Did I miss something ?

  • foreveris2long

    Tonight was the first time seeing Randolph play. As anyone is better defensively than Frye, he is an upgrade. He also does not appear as error prone as Plumlee. He will get a real test Tuesday when the high flyers from LA visit the desert. I wonder why McD did not try to lure E. Clark back to the desert. Certainly we would have been a more attractive option than NY. I like E. Clark defensively and he has improved offensively even though he did not show much in Mike Brown’s system.

    Tough win tonight. Sure glad Morris twins, G. Green, Dragic and Ish showed up tonight. As poorly as the Suns are playing defensively if they win one out of the next four it will be a surprise but I will be pulling for them every minute.

  • bill_thomas

    What, no replies? I guess all are OK with our sieve defense.

    As for Archie’s minutes, I guess we’ll have to play him for a few at the three and Marcus for a few at the 4. Bring Bled back in slowly.

    After all, a meniscus tear is not like a lemon cream pie.

  • bill_thomas

    @forever:yeah we should have got Earl back. What a blunder, cd have used both him and Shavlik. Wd like to have seen Varnado here.

    And maybe Bill Veeck too.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    Agreed on Earl! What a shame; last season he really seemed be becoming the player I always thought he could be, then Mike Brown set his career back a couple years… His bad for signing there I guess. He would look great on this Suns team. Having said that Shavlik definitely fills a role here, bringing some toughness at the four. Too bad about Slava. I really think he’s under-rated and has the potential for an NBA career. Just too deep at the 5 here. Hopefully he can catch on somewhere…

  • hawki

    meniscus tear > Lemon Cream Pie

    meniscus tear < Red Velvet Cake

  • EBJM

    Earl Clark is a mistake from the past.

    Shavlik was very popular in Boston in those last 16 games at the end of last season.

    Look how Gerald Green has turned out.

    Ryan is more comfortable bringing Shavlik on board and we owe him the benefit of the doubt.

  • EBJM

    How can a defensive coach like Mike Brown screw up a defensive player like Earl Clark?

    Cavalier’s G.M. David Griffin was part of the decision-making to draft Clark while in Phoenix and he traded Clark for Spencer Hawes!

    In regards to the Suns being a “defensive sieve”, well, last night’s game is a historically typical Suns game.

    They have been scorers literally from season two who have almost never really liked to exert much energy at the defensive end of the court.

    The last and only team to have really played defense had Larry Nance, Maurice Lucas and Dennis Johnson in the line-up.

  • EBJM

    Did you guys not recall that after Clark “broke-out” under D’Antoni last season he fizzled out within two months?

    Brown made him a starter at small forward and he ended up being buried deeper than Anthony Bennett!

    At least Shavlik’s excuse has been injuries.

  • Suns Fan in Portland

    I’ve seen very little of the Cavs this season… but early in the season I watched a few games and I actually thought Earl was playing pretty well. He didn’t seem to fit in the offense at all, but the offense was pretty bad all around; like a pickup game but two guys take all the shots while the other guys stand around and watch. Mostly just a joke about Mike Brown, though I’ve never thought he was a very good coach. There’s obviously something there since he keeps getting hired, but I don’t really see it.

    I didn’t really think Earl fizzled last year, I thought it was more that players came back from injury and he got less minutes. When he was starting he played really well. I just like him as a player, but ultimately I do think Shavlik is a better signing anyway. Earl is not a player who does well in very limited minutes, while Shavlik actually seems to thrive in that role. He does fill a need for us and bring some skills and toughness we were lacking at the four. I’m definitely a fan of the signing. Even if he only plays a couple minutes, in a close game every minute counts…

  • BCrayZ

    This makes 23 out of 24!

    We should have won that Rockets game.

    That would have made it a perfect 24 in a row. Suns could not score in Q4 of that game. We were missing our “Blur.” Up until then, we had won 21 games in a row when scoring 110 points or more. Barbosa came back from a separated shoulder & we won 10 of the 14 games he was able to play. Make it now 11 out of 15 games. This is nearly 80% & an even better winning % then when both Gogi & Eric play. He is our go-to scorer that we have been missing in Q4. Last night’s game marked his return from a sprained big toe. With LB back, coach Jeff made a very smart move. He had him play the entire Q4 & finish the game. Jeff has come to know that he is clutch. When he is in the back court, it takes the pressure off of Gogi & allows the ball to move. Suns recorded 29 assists in last night’s game, best of the year. Sharing the ball has been a real weak spot for our Suns. Bill Thomas does not realize that Archie plays losing ball. He looks flashy, but he loses at every level (Suns, D-League & Kentucky), as the ball gets stuck in his hands & fails to move. Jeff knows this. Jose Romero (AP Sports) recognizes Barbosa’s clutch value. This is what he said after our Suns have lost most of the games that LB has been out & not able to play, with his sprained big toe, “Leandro Barbosa, playing his first game since missing the past five with a sprained toe, scored five key points in the fourth quarter to keep the Hawks at bay.” BEEP BEEP! Even hit his only shot from deep. With his trey ball back, he is even more dangerous to the other team.

    MUST start & ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • john

    I’m in the Earl Clark doesn’t belong on this roster camp. He had his chance. He failed. He got starter minutes for a while in LA and played halfway decent for a while, then was replaced as soon as other options became available and he faded back into nothingness.

    EC is an immense talent that won’t ever find much time on the court. He’s just not very good.

  • Foreveris2long

    Regarding the signing of Shavik, I blindly trust McD on this one as I do not recall ever seeing Shavik play. Like I said above I have no doubt he is a better defender than Frye. However clearly Earl Clark has attracted more NBA attention than Shavik. Earl averaged 23 minutes a game last season on a relatively decent Laker team whereas Shavik got about half that time on a lesser Boston club. Overall I think if you compared ECs NBA stats including minutes played with Shavik’s EC would have better numbers. Stan Van Gundy really liked EC as a defensive player while he was in Orlando.

    So while I can respect those who feel he would not have been a good fit in the desert, to suggest he is not very good but imply a 30 year old player who did not have an NBA job this season is better, seems short sighted.

  • Foreveris2long

    This is what Stan Van Gundy said in 2011 about EC

    “I think he’s a good offensive player,” Van Gundy said. “I think he’s got skills. I think he’s got talent. But, man, he can be special on the defensive end.”

    Anyway I am pulling for Shavik as he is a Sun now. He will be tested a lot these next four games.

  • john

    EC’s LAL totals last year were less than stellar. He had a few games that made you go, “That’s Earl Clark’s line? Really?” But other than those few games, he was far less than stellar (and even quite a bit less than average). He had a PER of 12.4 and WS48 of 0.080 last year, and his splits as a starter were 9 pts/6.8 reb in 29.3 minutes.

    I guess my point wasn’t to say that Shavlik Randolph is better than EC. My point is more that it’s a fairly pointless discussion to have. Neither guy is going to have a significant impact on a good NBA squad.

    EC has more experience, especially in big minutes, but he has also seemed unwilling to learn and develop. Shavlik hasn’t had much of a chance (perhaps deservedly so), but has seemed to embrace his role as a rebounder who can’t do much else. If I had to COUNT on one of them, I’d pick EC in a heartbeat, but I don’t think that was the motivation for this pickup. If the Suns had to count on EC for production, they probably wouldn’t be in the playoff race.

  • Foreveris2long

    That is a fair assessment John.

  • HushPuppy

    Where is Len? Hurt? I didn’t see him log any minutes last night, while Randolph was playing minutes in the fourth quarter of a tight game. Thought that was strange…

  • Solarion

    So, Len is now the 3rd center? That 5th pick is looking better every day.

  • bill_thomas

    I have to believe that the Len pick was a seriously bad medical gamble that had gone terribly wrong. I cannot imagine any other explanation. I hope they insured his contract.

  • BCrayZ

    I welcome Randolph but would have welcomed Louis much more.

    Ryan knows both Barbosa & Randolph, where as I know Louis & our “Blur.”

    Will have to hope that Ryan made the right move but I love Louis’ rebounding & defensive game. The energy he brings is contagious to the rest of our guys. Chemistry & familiarity is so important to the team. Does anyone know who the best pick & roll tandem in the NBA are? None other than Gogi & Frye. They are from “that killer bench unit”, as is our Brazilian Blur.

    MUST reunite “that killer bench unit.” Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • bill_thomas

    Clark is a much better shot blocker and put-back artist than either Morris or Frye. He is also a better on-ball and perimeter defender. He is less skilled than them in most other aspects, but this may be a function of consistency of playing time and the Morris’ familiarity with each other and with Dragic.

    Clark has a streaky three and sometimes is hot, often not. I believe he is coachable. D’Antoni had issues with his all-around minutes allocations and rotations last year, but liked Clark and only gave up on him when he did not improve on shot selection issues. However, that problem was usually bc the whole Laker offense was screwed up due to injuries.

    I would sign Clark in a New York second and then check him out more fully in training camp next year.

  • bill_thomas

    Forgot to mention that Clark runs the floor better than any of the aforesaid Frye/Morri crew and is a much better pick and roll defender.

  • DZ

    I think McD’s decision to sign Randolph instead of Clark was mostly due to the fact that he knew exactly what he was getting with Randolph because of their past history in Boston.

    Len will eventually get his minutes. He would probably be getting a lot more this season if the Suns weren’t playing as well as they have been. He’s a young rookie that’s still raw and not really NBA ready. If he had spent more time in collage before entering the draft he would have been better prepared but you can say that about a lot of draftees that leave collage early.

    There’s been some talk lately about raising the age limit to enter the draft, redo the draft process or just do away with it entirely. I think one thing that might encourage more players to stay in collage is that those who stay the full 4 years and actually earn a degree could bypass the draft and enter the NBA as an unrestricted free agent that could sign with whichever team they wanted.

  • john

    I think it’s WAY too early to give up on Len. The little bit that I’ve seen of him shows me he has a high ceiling. Not best-center-in-the-league high, but this-guy-could-be-an-all-star-some-day high. He has a lot of talent and far more natural ability than most guys at his position and his age. If he puts the work in, I think he’ll turn out to be very good, maybe even great.

    If there’s one thing I believe about McDonough over anything else, it’s that he’s a good judge of character. I don’t think he would have taken Len at #5 if he didn’t believe Len was the type of guy who was going to give everything he has to be the best player he can be.

  • bill_thomas

    I don’t believe there is a character issue. I suspect there is an unknown and/or unresolved medical issue. However I have not heard of him being held out of or limited in practice. I do not know whether that sort of thing is required to be reported.

  • Foreveris2long

    Put me on the patience wagon for Len. I too think he is going to be good but with the Suns fighting for their playoff lives, Coach Horny is not going to sacrifice the team for the sake of further developing Len. IMO he does not trust Len, Frye or Plumlee in the 4th quarter unless they are having an exceptional game.

  • DZ

    Len is 20 years old. In the history of the NBA there have been very few players who have come into the NBA and made a significant impact at 20… and even fewer centers who have done so. Moses Malone is really the only center I can think of that was an impact player at the 5 while under 20. There are probably more but only a handful at most.

    Len may ultimately be a bust but as John said it is way too early to give up on him.

  • DZ

    Well said F2L.

  • Foreveris2long

    DZ I have always thought it takes considerably longer to develop centers and point guards. Len iMO is no exception. As you duly noted, the exceptions at center are far and few between. Thanks DZ.

  • ellensburgbballfan

    I agree with bill on everything, Len and Goodwin are being sacrificed so that the team can attempt a run to get to the playoffs

    Which is sad in a way, I would rather see us develop talent like the 76ers have been doing

    Unless you are a top 4 seed team in the west your chances of doing anything in the playoffs are miniscule

    I would rather see us look at the future than the 6 games and we go home playoffs

    This team has done great this year and Mcmiracle will develop Len and Goodwin plus whoever we get in the draft, starting this off season

    We should have nearly invincible summer league squad

    It was a win but how long can this team get by on random luck? Like playing teams where 3 guys don’t play? Playing the terrible east? Having a ton of games at home ?

    If I was Mcmiracle, I would sign and trade Bledsoe for that elite 3 he is always pining for, and give Goodwin and Len starting roles next season

    Then use their assets this summer to draft the best available 4 man and keep the Morris twins on the bench

    People think I’m nuts but let’s be honest if the Suns barely make the playoffs and get destroyed, we are just duplicating what the team was going into 2010-2011 a mediocre team on the outer fringes

    Not good enough to do anything, not nearly bad enough to acquire a superstar thru the draft

  • ellensburgbballfan

    BTW I don’t want to sound negative but at least the team is young, has players with potential, and oh yeah not ran by blanks or hunter anymore

    Thank God

  • TI

    I like the way ellensburghfan thinks! Spot on!

    Oh btw Randolph is garbage’ and so is Earl Friggin Clark. Len is becoming more and more clearer a bust by NBA standards. I can see Tshitivili Zachaleedis Karbaxhaba creeping up all over again. I mean with the exception of The rook in Cleveland, all other rookies be getting some major PT baby

  • TI

    Like we fell for the Alex Len potential argument. The Alex Len is gonna be out only a few weeks argument. The Alex Len has much potential argument. The alex len is nursing a sore ankle argument. The Alex Len wait till next season argument. The alex len lets be patient with him argument. Cmon!

    Bottom line: Suns had no business taking such a gamble on such a raw, unproven, unskilled, injured player in the first place.

    But he has a lot of potential….. we will never see! Bahahaha! Sad

  • TI

    Unless you like his 5 foul average per game, or his 3 pts here and there, or his 2 rebounds in the same frequency. Puuuulllllease! But he looks like auch a basketball player in that Suns uni!!!

  • bill_thomas

    @ellensburgbballfan: Hey thanks for your high 5 man.

    Your key point is :”Some people think I’m nuts….”

    I have no problema with Horny trying his utmost to make the playoffs, but how has Goodwin hurt us in these past few outings? Maybe you and some others may agree with me, Goodwin’s athleticism may cover for a variety of other minor deficiencies on the roster.

  • bill_thomas

    Goodwin is like a shorter Clark on heavy steroids !!!!!!!!

  • bill_thomas

    Len’s GF makes an excellent Chicken Kiev, poo poo that!!!!!

  • bill_thomas

    Dammitt I missed something. This DZ repartee seems to contain nuggets of brilliance. I am going to take this entire thing to Spock to Analyze.

  • bill_thomas

    @EBJM: Mike Brown could screw up a Girl Scout with cookies outside of Vons !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • bill_thomas

    Mike Brown. Hitler just had the wrong people.

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    I really cant agree with the Len is a bust sentiment, if you look at the elite big men in the NBA right now, such as Noah, Hibbert, Tyson Chandler

    Players that are current or former all stars

    every single one of these big men had just ho hum rookie seasons

    Bigmen, unless they are the incredibly rare impact center kind, which you almost never see, take a few years to develop

    its just a fact, look at Hibbert’s stats his rookie year

    7 points 3 boards, a block in 15 minutes a game

    Noah 6 points 5 boards, 1 block in 22 minutes a game

    Chandler 6 points, 5 boards 1 block in 20 minutes a game

    Alex Lens per 36 numbers are still pretty good, and in fact, nearly identical to Plumlees

    8 points, 10 boards, 2 blocks per 36 minutes

    Chandlers rookie per 36 minute numbers?

    11 points, 9 boards, 2.4 blocks

    Noahs rookie per 36? 11.5 points, 9.6 boards 1.5 blocks

    Hibberts rookie per 36? 17 points, 8 boards, 2.7 blocks

    Hibbert blows everyone else away here, obviously but i would still love Joakim Noah or Tyson Chandler starting for me on a playoff bound Suns squad

    Len may look like a bust from a per game standpoint, but the reality is he is right on track to being a quality starter

    just not this year, and in fact the last rookie center to come into the league and make an impact was 12 years ago, Yao Mings rookie year

    the only way were gonna know if Len is a bust or not is when he gets around 2 seasons of consistent playing time

    because thats about what it took for everyone not named Ming to figure it out