The Phoenix Suns set season highs all over the board in scoring and assists, and held off the almost-as-hot Atlanta Hawks in a high-scoring affair that Eddie Johnson and Dominique Wilkins would love.
The Atlanta Hawks were hot from the perimeter, shooting 68% in the first quarter and making 5 of their first 10 threes. But the Phoenix Suns were even hotter and had built a 14-point halftime lead with 12-for-18 shooting on threes and 64% shooting overall by halftime.
"The whole night, I think, both of our teams are hard to guard," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said of the Suns and Hawks. "In terms of how we play, kicking it up and quick shots."
The halftime score was nearly equal to a full Eastern Conference dogfight: 79-65 Suns. As a media mate, Paul Richardson, put it: "It's an All-Star game without any All Stars."
The Suns 79 points are the most by any NBA team in a half this season. The Hawks, missing their top two big men, decided to play as fast as possible and nearly kept pace with the Suns, scoring 65 of their own.
"We knew it was going to be like that," guard Gerald Green said. "But I didn't know they were going to be running like THAT."
"They push the ball," Suns guard Goran Dragic said. "and I was kind of tired the first two minutes. My legs were heavy."
Dragic had a
quiet good game, finishing with only 19 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds in 33 minutes.
The Suns made 12 threes in the half, and the teams together made 18. NBA records are 22 and 31, respectively. the Suns own the 22 threes, in a Nov 2010 game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
At halftime, I had the pleasure of watching old veterans Dominique Wilkins (Hawks) and Eddie Johnson (Suns) yuk it up about the lack of D in the first half. Great stuff.
In the second half, the Hawks decided that if the league record 31 treys is going to get beat they needed to contribute more. The Hawks made 5 threes in the third quarter and pulled to within 1 of the Suns before the home boys scored some quick points to pull back out to a 7-point lead at the end of three.
102-95 Suns after three. 25 total threes made. 14 by the Suns. Doesn't look like the Suns will break their own record of 22, but the two teams might just top 31 total.
The fourth quarter was closer than it probably should have been, but the countdown to 31 was on. The teams reached 29 with 3 minutes left, and nothing but garbage time on the docket.
But it was not meant to be.
The Suns merely set an NBA record for most points in a half (79), beat their own season-high in scoring (129) and assists (29 on 44 field goals), and tied their season high for three pointers in a game (15; done two other times this season).
That's 129 points on 44 field goals, folks.
And won easily, despite the Hawks playing hard all the way to the end.
Gerald Green led the Suns with 33 points. The Morris brothers added 39 points and 17 rebounds.
"Like I've been saying all season," Green said afterward. "It's easy playing with guys like Goran and Ish who are able to create and break down the defense. I have the easiest job in the world, knocking down shots."
"[Korver] is the best shooter in the league," Hornacek said, who was with the Utah organization when Korver was filling it up for the Jazz. "We had P.J. try to run around on him, but it is hard. Kyle has been guarded that way forever and ever. He knows how to get open... he knows how to get off screens... He knows how to just catch it and shoot it."
Hornacek was happy with the win, despite giving up 120 points to get there.
"Sometimes there might look like there was zero defense out there," he said. "But I am sure the guys were trying."
Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris scored a combined 39 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, very evenly distributed. The Suns are now 16-5 when both twins get double digits in scoring.
The game started as most recent Suns games have started - with the Suns not playing with any energy on defense as they try to simply outscore the other team.
A Hawks team missing 5 guys who could start for them scored 18 POINTS IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF THE GAME. That's disgusting. Fortunately, the Hawks weren't defending either and the Suns still led on the scoreboard by 4, but all that does is tell the team they don't even need to play D.
Sure enough, the Hawks scored the next 9 points on successive possessions and took at 27-22 lead. Awful focus. Awful.
The Hawks scored at will until Ish Smith and Markieff Morris entered to help get some stops, and the Suns finally grabbed a 3-point lead at the end of one Q, thanks to 6 threes by the Suns in the period.
New "savior" Shavlik Randolph entered with 7 seconds left in the first quarter and the Suns nursing a 5-point lead, and immediately committed a foul to put the Hawks on the line. Oh well. Maybe not the season savior after all?
Suns lead, 40-37.
The second quarter was more of the same, except the Suns got a few more stops and soon the lead was 14 despite the Hawks STILL SHOOTING 66% AND 5-OF-10 FROM THREE. Is that possible? Apparently it is.
Suns finished the half with a 13-point lead thanks to 64% shooting and 12-of-18 on threes. The Hawks made 6 of their own, and the record-watch was on.
NBA record for threes in a game, one team: 22 (Phoenix Suns beat Los Angeles Lakers, Nov 4, 2010)
NBA record for threes in a game, both teams: 31 (Toronto vs. Philly, 2005)
Daniel Christian of Peachtree Hoops answers some questions about the Hawks in advance of tonight's game in Phoenix.
The Phoenix Suns get their first taste of the new-look Atlanta Hawks tonight at home. Unfortunately for the Hawks, their current look has been kind to them, as they've been dealing with a plethora of injuries and have lost 9 of their last 10 games.
Peachtree Hoops' Daniel Christian answers a few questions about Jeff Teague, the state of the Hawks and his thoughts on tonight's game.
Also check out the Bright Side Q&A about tonight's game over at Peachtree Hoops to see what I had to say about Goran Dragic, Miles Plumlee and Jeff Hornacek.
Q: Jeff Teague signed a lucrative new contract in the offseason and has put up respectable 16 and 7 per game. What are Teague's biggest strengths and weaknesses?
A (Daniel Christian): Teague's play has been impressive this season, but it's also created plenty of dissent within the Hawks fan base. When aggressive, Teague is one of the better point guards in the league. He's crazy quick off the dribble and generally a nightmare for opposing defenses in transition. He's effective in the pick-and-roll, although without Horford as his counterpart he's had a little more of a difficult time (understandably so), and he's historically been a respectable outside shooter (his shooting numbers have taken a dip this year).
But all too often of late, he's been prone to poor shooting nights accompanied with a lackadaisical disposition. His defense has always been suspect, and that, along with other (often ridiculous) complaints, led to a minor clamoring for Teague to be traded at the deadline. The rumors of Hawks-Knicks talks only accentuated these feelings for some, but the bottom line remains that Teague has been, on the whole, very effective for the Hawks. He didn't keep up his torrid start to the year, but he's still, at this point, the best fully healthy player on the Hawks roster (get well soon, Millsap).
Q: With all the injuries, the Hawks are struggling of late having lost 10 of 12 February games. And now Millsap is out. Which player has stepped up the most lately, giving hope to the Hawk masses?
A: It has to be Mike Scott. He poured in 30 points against the Knicks in February and has generally been the biggest surprise for the Hawks this season. He's been impressive offensively all season, but with an increased role, we're seeing more of his strong offensive arsenal. In addition to Scott's relative personal successes, Shelvin Mack had career games in Teague's short injury absence. Mack and Scott have both been contributing at a secondary level all season, and given their career trajectories 1-2 years ago, that's quite a testament to the Hawks' player development system. But still, however fun these guys are, they aren't the one's you want leading your team.
Q: What do the Hawks need to do to win on Sunday night in Phoenix?
A: Without Millsap, Horford, Pero Antic, and Gustavo Ayon it seems difficult to imagine the Hawks winning many more games. That's almost their entire front line. The only real pieces that remain are Scott and the elderly Elton Brand. The Hawks are going to need to play small and hope Korver gets in his transition three-groove and Teague finds success at the rim, because the offense (or defense) isn't likely to come up front.
Both the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks came into the season with brand new rosters around an incumbent star (Al Horford for Atlanta, Goran Dragic for the Suns), and both teams exceeded expectations this season. But while the Suns are just about to get healthy, the Hawks are falling apart.
The Hawks had reached a high-water mark of 25-21 on February 1, staying strong even after Al Horford went down to a season-long injury. In the Eastern Conference, that was good enough for home court advantage in the first round.
A once-promising season in Atlanta is now teetering on the edge of disaster. The Hawks have lost 10 of their last 11 games.
To imagine the Hawks without Horford AND Millsap is to imagine the Suns without Bledsoe AND Dragic. Oh yeah, we don't have to imagine that. The Suns without Dragic and Bledsoe were 23-point losers to lotto bound Utah four days ago.
Check out Peachtree Hoops for more on the Hawks
Boy did the Suns need that win on Friday night. After a very disappointing week marred by Dragic's injury, they needed every bit of the Dragon's 40 points to upend the hot-shooting New Orleans Pelicans.
Now the Suns are boosted by a couple more pieces of good news. On Saturday, the Suns signed a veteran energy guy for rebounding down the stretch. Our own contributor, Bryan Gibberman, was there to catch all the quotes. While Shavlik Randolph hasn't even played in the NBA this season, some already see him as a better option than Miles Plumlee. Let's not go that far. Yet.
"He said the knee felt really good and has recovered well every time he has pushed himself harder," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. "Today, we did primarily 5-on-5 and it will be interesting to see how he responds tomorrow. You still see the explosiveness, see the burst and the ability to get by his guy and finish at the rim. We are optimisitic he will help us down the stretch."
Dionte Christmas last week said Bledsoe looks just as good as he always has. Coach Jeff Hornacek said Bledsoe has had zero soreness or swelling since ramping up his workouts prior to Saturday's 5-on-5 test. The only issue now is when Bledsoe can run up and down the court full speed more than a few times before getting too winded to play full out.
Barring any setbacks, expect a promotion to the active roster any time now. Maybe Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, or Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Both games are on NBATV, in case you go for that kind of thing.
Since Paul Millsap has already been ruled out of this game against the Suns and Al Horford is out for the season, I only listed the active Hawks players among the leaders in scoring, rebounding and minutes.
The Hawks are 28th in total rebounds for the whole season, a problem only heightened by missing Millsap tonight.
The Hawks are a real mish-mash now, with a patchwork front line of DeMarre Carroll and Elton Brand. Carroll has been the small foward all season and played fairly well, but is now forced to play PF with Millsap out. The Hawks just signed second round pick and former college phenom Mike Muscala, so we might see him get some time on that front line tonight.
The Suns really need to win the battle of the boards tonight, and control the Hawks' three-point shooting which remains strong thanks to Kyle Korver getting 34 minutes a night.
I have a hard time seeing the Suns lose this one, unless Dragic takes the night off. The Hawks are reeling. The Suns just need to keep that foot on their throats.