Game Notes: Suns at Hawks
Suns hand Hawks first loss of the season.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
You can’t give an NBA team a second chance to win a game, and the Suns had received exactly that Friday against the Grizzlies. Rudy Gay made a free throw he was presumably trying to miss with 0.4 seconds left in the game, which left Memphis up by two, setting the stage for a spectacular inbounds lob from Grant Hill to Jason Richardson to tie the game. After two overtime periods, the Suns came away with a fateful win.
“We gonna take it no matter how it is,” says Richardson, “especially the games we’ve been having where we played well the whole game and the last two or three minutes we just not doing things we normally do. Right now we’re just gonna take the wins and roll with them.”
Asked if he’s ever practiced missing free throws, he says, “No, not ever. I mean it’s kind of hard to miss a free throw. You just have to just break it off from your style and just try to just throw it up there and just try to get a high bounce.”
“I thought that the basketball gods were with us that night,” says Jared Dudley.
The Suns were not as lucky during their last visit to Philips Arena in January. Jordan Crawford swished a long range three to give the Hawks a dramatic one-point win at the buzzer. Who would have fate on their side tonight?
*Both teams got off to fast shooting starts, with the Suns shooting 50.0 percent and the Hawks 54.5 percent.
*Ball movement was fluid for both teams, as each racked up 8 assists.
*Former Hawk Josh Childress entered the game with less than a minute left. “It was a good experience, it was really cool to see all the old people that I built relationships with and basically was around for four years—not the players—I’m talking about the people in the arena, just everyone here,” he says.
*Grant Hill had 7 points and 4 rebounds, while Al Horford couldn’t miss in the first, with 10 points on 5-5 shooting.
*The Suns went on a run in the second, making 13-24 field goals, including 4-7 threes. Hedo Turkoglu had 8 points, Nash had 5 points and 3 assists, and the bench scored 18 of the team’s 31.
*The Hawks shot well, making 10-19 field goals, but turned the ball over 6 times. Horford added another 8 points on 4-5 shooting, Johnson had 8 and Josh Smith had 6, as those three accounted for all 22 of the Hawks’ second quarter points.
First Half Breakdown
*The Hawks were down 61-50 to end the half, going 0-8 from beyond the arc.
*Horford shined, showing off a versatile midrange jumper that he seemingly couldn’t miss. He finished the half with 18 points on 9-10 shooting, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Suns coach Alvin Gentry highlighted Horford’s performance, unprompted, saying, “I don’t know if there’s a guy that works harder in the league than him. You know on the offensive end, the defensive end, rebounding, you know that’s a bargain—whatever they signed him for—it’s a bargain. It really is, he’s a stud.”
*After a Richardson jumper puts the Suns up 18 with 5:54 in the third, the momentum begins to change.
*Following a Horford basket, Josh Smith gets a steal, which leads to a Joe Johnson field goal. Sometimes, defense has an electric impact on a game, and it seems like Smith’s blocks and steals usually lead to a surge of momentum for the Hawks. Earlier in the week, Smith was asked about finishing second to Dwight Howard in Defensive Player of the Year votes last season. “I’m definitely hungry for that award,” says Smith, “it’s definitely one of my goals, but I just try to be a nuisance on the defensive end…I know that if I do that each and every game that it’ll push up the defensive tempo of my team.”
Asked if he was surprised he made All-Defensive Second Team despite being runner up for Defensive Player of the Year, Smith says, “You know I was surprised, but you know last year is last year and I was just happy just to be a part of one of those teams. It was my first time being on one of those teams and it’ll give me something to strive for this year.”
*Mike Bibby hits a Smith-assisted three-pointer from the corner, cutting the deficit to 11 and forcing the Suns to call a timeout.
*Richardson gets a dunk following the timeout, followed by a Johnson jumper, a second Smith-assisted Bibby corner three, and a signature Jamal Crawford 4-point play to get the Hawks within four.
*Nash follows with a jumper, Bibby hits another three—as the crowd at Philips arena erupts—before Nash follows with a second jumper. It is easy to see why Nash is the NBA’s all-time leader with four .50/.40/.90 shooting seasons.
*Johnson hits a 25-foot jumper to get the Hawks within two with two minutes to go and Josh Smith follows with a dunk to tie the game at 85.
*The quarter ends with the Suns up two, 90-88. The Hawks made 14-20 field goals, including 6-10 from beyond the arc during the spectacular run. Johnson had 15 points, while Bibby added 10, making 3 of 4 three-point attempts.
*Richardson had 13 huge points for the Suns. “He’s been really, really good,” says Gentry, “He’s shot the ball well but he’s also been really good defensively. As a leader on this team, he’s really stepped up. He’s playing great, I think he’s playing the best basketball of his career. And you can see tonight, he made a lot of big shots for us tonight. When we needed baskets, we went to him and he came through for us.”
*The Suns showed why they led the NBA in FG percentage, 3-PT percentage and points last season, scoring 28 and making 8-14 field goals, including 2-5 from beyond the arc. The bench stepped up with 16 of the team’s 28.
*The Hawks put in a valiant effort to claw their way back, but came up short, scoring 26 on 9-22 shooting. Al Horford finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds, his 5th double-double in seven games this season. Johnson had a game-high 34 points.
*The Suns hand the 6-1 Hawks their first loss of the season, while the Suns get their record to .500 at 3-3. Nash, who finished with 19 points, 15 assists and 2 turnovers, says, “I mean we feel like we got a lot of work to do, we got a lot of improvement to make. So, I can’t be too disappointed to be .500. We realize this could take us a month or two months to get to where we really feel like we know who we are.”
The Suns understand that a new-look team means adjustments for everybody. “It’s a totally different identity,” says Richardson, “We know we went to the Western Conference Finals last year and all that but we got to put that in our past and look for the future. We have a good young team right now and we got to get a lot of guys used to the system.”
After losing Stoudemire, whom Gentry calls “probably the best screen and roll finisher in the league,” everybody’s game has changed slightly. Dudley mentioned the need for better shot clock management, since the team no longer has Stoudemire to bail them out of tough possessions.
Asked if he’s happy with the team’s shot clock management against the Hawks, Gentry says, “Yeah, but we’re still getting on the clock too much I think. That hadn’t been a problem with us in the past. We’re slowing down a little bit offensively and you know, they’re switching the screen and rolls and we have to make quicker decisions so that we’re not on the clock.”
One of the new faces making adjustments is Childress, who is not only getting acquainted with a new team but also a change in leagues. “Oh definitely is [an adjustment],” says Childress, “the speed, the athleticism, the style….we played a little more slow tempo in Europe and then coming to Phoenix which is like the fastest of the fast.”
Next up for the Suns: Monday at Memphis. Let’s see if fate is still on their side.