Are you a Frye Guy or a Mo' Bro?
Why not both?!
Channing Frye and Markieff Morris both came to play tonight, combining for 35 points on 13-21 shooting while playing engaged defense on Paul Millsap. Millsap still managed 19 points, but did it on 6-14 shooting. Frye chipped in 7 boards while Markieff managed 3 in the 102-95 Suns' victory.
Not to be out done, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragi? scored 20 and 19 of their own points in a solid Suns' victory. Aside from a cold stretch in the second quarter, Phoenix looked focused and composed throughout the game, never rattling in the face of the Atlanta Hawks' mulitple attempts to steal this game. This was the smoothest Phoenix's offense has looked since Bledsoe returned from knee surgery and is hopefully a harbinger of things to come.
This was a solid effort by Phoenix and hopefully a bit of a breather for Suns fans after their recent struggles to notch wins. Not that you'd know they'd been struggling as they've now won 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6! You know who never struggles (except on fast breaks)? P.J. Tucker. That dude just plays his game night in and night out. Tonight it was 8 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals for the heart of the Phoenix Suns, who like Tucker, never quit in this game. His defensive intensity was contagious as the Suns held the normally hot-shooting Hawks to 41.7% shooting.
For the Hawks, DeMarre Carrol matched Millsap's 19 points, while Jeff Teague and Louis Williams had 17 each. And despite some early domination on the glass, Phoenix managed to out rebound the Hawks' aggressive front line, 39-32.
Hot shooting and good defense got the Suns off to an 15-7 advantage as Atlanta missed their first 6 shots while the Suns hit their first four 3-pointers. It did not last long as Paul Millsap and Elton Brand went to work to tie the game with 2 minutes left in the first quarter. Channing Frye and Lou Williams then exchanged 3 pointers before both teams forgot how to play basket ball for the next 90 seconds. Gerald Green was then fouled on a drive and hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 25-23 to end the quarter.
The second quarter started with Atlanta scoring on their first 2 possessions to take a 2-point lead. The Hawks stretched their lead to 7 behind some strong play from Louis Williams before Marcus Morris and Channing Frye hit back-to-back threes to close the gap to 1. An Eric Bledsoe free throw completed the 7-0 run to tie the ball game with 5 minutes left in the period. Atlanta bested the Suns on the boards 20-18 (5-3 on the offensive end) which lead to multiple second chances and a 3-point halftime lead despite being out-shot by Phoenix 41.2% to 40.5%.
After getting abused on the boards early, Phoenix remembered their fundamentals and fought back to take the lead a few minutes into the third quarter. Goran Dragi? and Eric Bledsoe were aggressive going to the hoop, drawing fouls when they weren't getting lay-ins. The penetration of DragonBlade was so effective that Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer drew a technical after an uncontested Bledsoe lay-up. His T was for naught as the Bledsoe-Dragi? lay-up line continued unabated as the Suns outscored Atlanta 35-23 in the third with 23 of those points coming from DragonBlade.
Phoenix looked to keep the momentum going in the 4th, but a cold spell allowed Atlanta to climb back within 4 early in the period. Gerald Green, who went to the bench early with foul trouble, made his presence felt to keep the Suns from succumbing to the feisty Hawks scoring 9 points in the 4th quarter. After extending the lead to 10, Phoenix started playing not to lose and working the shot clock with just over 4 minutes left in the game. The lack of aggression allowed Atlanta to make it way more of a game than it needed to be. Nevertheless, solid defensive play and steady shooting allowed Phoenix to hold on for the win.
The Phoenix Suns have won 10 more games than the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA season thus far. And yet, Atlanta holds a 3 game cushion for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference while the Suns are fighting tooth and nail for their first post-season action in 3 seasons. Such is the talent gap between the East and West. Tonight is a chance for Phoenix to emphasize that gap.
Phoenix beat Atlanta in a track meet earlier this month, 129-120. Despite both teams being on the second night of a back-to-back, given the Hawks' propensity for giving up points (17th in defensive rating), it would be fair to expect more of the same. Atlanta has been streakier than Channing Frye, losing 6 in a row then winning 5 in a row before dropping their last 2 straight. It's probably no coincidence that the last 2 losses have come without ace 3-point shooter Kyle Korver in the line-up. He is listed as day-to-day with back spasms and could miss tonight's game. That would be a boon for Phoenix.
The Suns' frontcourt will have its hands full with Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, both of whom have played well in the absence of Al Horford this season. Millsap is both Atlanta's leading scorer and rebounder since Horford went down. The way Phoenix has been hemorrhaging points in the paint, I would expect the Hawks to go to him early and often. It will be the Suns' first time playing against Millsap as he missed the first game with Phoenix due to a knee injury.
Phoenix has won their last 3 games despite inconsistent play at both ends of the court. This has moved them to within a half-game of both the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies (who hold a tie-break over the Suns). This is a should-win game for a team sorely in need of them.
Eric Bledsoe's strong return should continue with a match-up against the Hawks' Jeff Teague. In the last game against the Suns, Teague looked All-NBA, with 29 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds. Bledsoe's on-ball defense should prevent a repeat of that performance. Additionally, the Suns should be able to generate some serious offense against an Atlanta team that ranks in the bottom half of the league in both opponent FG% and 3PT%.
Note: For the Hawks, I've used the statistical leaders who are expected to be available for tonight's game.
The Hawks' Undersized Backcourt vs. The Suns' Undersized Backcourt - It's not often Phoenix plays a team that runs out a pair of 6'3" or shorter guards in their starting five, but that's just what Atlanta has in Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack. With Bledsoe matching up with Teague, Goran Dragi? should run wild on Mack. Unless Kyle Korver plays, in which case, the backcourt match-ups will become something of a chess game between Jeff Hornacek and Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer.
And as mentioned above, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris will be tasked with checking Paul Millsap. Frye is the better rim defender (allowing 51.9% at the rim vs. 56.0% for Morris), but Morris is more mobile. If the Suns can find their defensive intensity and limit the rest of the Hawks, then maybe Millsap gets his and the Suns win anyway.
No bones about it, this should be a Phoenix win going away, especially if Korver doesn't play. But since nothing has been a given with this team, I think it will be another close and high-scoring affair. 113-107, Suns
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