With four straight wins, including tonight’s 107-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, the Phoenix Suns have officially ended their streak of three straight losing seasons. 42 wins is a big number for a franchise accustomed to winning and playing in the postseason. It symbolizes Phoenix’s rise from the ashes of the Steve Nash era. Although there is still much to be decided for this current squad, 42 wins in the West is proof of how hard everyone – from the front office to Coach Hornacek to the players – has worked over the last eight months. The Suns are currently tied with the Mavericks for the eighth spot in the West and sit just a half game behind Memphis in seventh.
Despite the fact that Atlanta is barely clinging to a playoff spot in the East and is now seven games below .500, this was not an easy win for the Suns. Coming off yesterday’s draining comeback win and long flight from Minnesota, Phoenix came out sloppy with the ball. They committed nine turnover in the first half (18 for the game) which led to extra possessions for Atlanta. The Hawks were focused on slowing the game down in the first half and limiting fast break opportunities for the Suns. Forced to play halfcourt offense, Phoenix was indecisive and dull. If not for some hot shooting by Channing Frye (18 points, 4-of-9 from downtown), the Hawks might have put Phoenix in a big hole early.
The Suns’ ineffectual plodding continued until just after halftime when Phoenix ripped off a 33-16 run through the end of the third. That burst put Phoenix up 10 and the game essentially out of reach for the Hawks. This run was fueled by 14 points from Goran Dragic, nine from Eric Bledsoe, and nearly 64% shooting by the Suns as a team. It turned the tide and allowed Phoenix to dominate the Atlanta in nearly every phase of the game. The Suns outrebounded the Hawks 39-32 and held Atlanta to under 42% shooting. Phoenix also dished out more assists (21-18) which is incredible considering that Atlanta has the second best assist rate in the NBA while Phoenix has the second worst.
When the Hawks tried to claw their way back into the game in the final frame, Gerald Green and Markieff Morris were there to peg them back. Both Green and Kieff chipped in nine points in the final quarter. Morris also handed out three assists. Markieff finished with 17 points while Green had 13 on just six shots. The Hawks were led by 19 points from DeMarre Carroll and 15 points from Lou Williams off the bench.
For more on this game, let’s answer our three preview questions.
Will the Suns shoot over 50% from the floor?
Yes, the streak continues. The Suns have still yet to lose a game this season when shooting over 50%.
Phoenix was efficient from top to bottom in this one with nearly everyone, save Channing Frye, having a better second half than first. Phoenix had five players score in double figures, and went 12-of-24 from downtown. Though the Suns did struggle early against Atlanta’s trapping pseudo-zone defense, the team shared the ball more and more as the game went on which wore down the Hawks’ defense and led to lots of wide open shots in the second half. Phoenix also had 21 fast break points and lots of buckets out of secondary transition plays.
Can the Suns limit Paul Millsap?
The answer is yes, though the box score might not agree. Millsap scored 19 points in 38 minutes and earned 10 trips to the free throw line. But despite those numbers, the Suns made him work extremely hard for his points. Their stout defense on Atlanta’s star forward bogged down the Hawks’ half court offense and helped the Suns force 17 turnovers. With the Suns’ defense focused on limiting him, Millsap focused on drawing contact and getting to the line very early on in the game. While that tactic was effective, it ultimately took him out of his offensive game. He wasn’t as mobile without the ball and lacked court vision (0 assists.) Channing Frye, who guarded Millsap for the majority of the game, did a really excellent job alongside Goran Dragic in defending the Atlanta’s pick and roll with Millsap and point guard Jeff Teague. Frye did a great job stopping Teague at the point of attack, allowing Dragic to recover, then recovering himself to Millsap who opted to pop instead of roll more often than not. That pick and roll is a big reason why Millsap made the All Star team this season. When the Suns took that away, he really had no answer.
What’s next for the Dragic and Bled Show?
The biggest news from this game is that Eric Bledsoe looks good as new. This is the third straight game he has scored 20+ points, but this was the first game since his return that Bledsoe’s jumper looked great. The first year Sun hit all three of his attempts from beyond the arc as well as a few mid-range jumpers. When he wasn’t lofting from deep, Bledsoe penetrated and finished at will. He had two highlight drives in this game that drew loud reactions from the Atlanta crowd. Some of that cheering may have been from the family members Eric had in attendance. Bledsoe is rounding into top form just at the right time for Phoenix.
Goran Dragic was quiet in the first half, recording just five points and three assists. In the third, Dragic went off, hitting six of his nine shots and handing out another pair of assists as Phoenix took control of the game. Dragic’s ability to be a one man fast break never ceases to amaze. At the end of the third quarter, with Atlanta waiting to take the last shot, the Suns forced a steal and got the ball to Dragic who was streaking down the right wing. Dragic took two dribbles, split a pair of Atlanta defenders with a jumping spin move, and finished smoothly with his left. The basket came out of nowhere and was further proof of how unstoppable Goran can be in transition. He and Bledsoe are playing better together every game. That’s the best thing that can happen to the Suns with 11 games to play.
- P.J. Tucker had the most P.J. Tucker line possible: eight points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals, six personal fouls, and a tech.