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 Suns hold off Hawks as O'Neal scores 26

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PostSubject: Suns hold off Hawks as O'Neal scores 26   Suns hold off Hawks as O'Neal scores 26 Icon_minitimeWed Jan 14, 2009 5:17 pm

PHOENIX(AP) The Shaquille O'Neal of old is leading the new-look Phoenix Suns.O'Neal
had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and the Suns won their third straight
Tuesday night with a 107-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, who lost
their fourth in a row.The Suns are 8-1 this season when O'Neal
scores 20 or more points. This was his ninth 20-point game of the
season, surpassing his total of eight all last season."Shaq is
playing like the Shaq of old,'' Atlanta's Josh Smith said. "And when he
is down there making moves ... it makes it tough to defend.''O'Neal
made 10 of his 17 field goal attempts, but for the first time in three
games he missed a foul shot. After making 12 without a miss in his
previous two games, he misfired on five of 11 against Atlanta in an
otherwise strong performance."Shaq was great,'' Suns coach Terry Porter said. "He had good patience and was able to score.''In
winning for the sixth time in seven games, the Suns (22-13) improved to
nine games over .500 for the first time this season. But they almost
let a 19-point lead slip away."When we get a big lead, we can't let up,'' Matt Barnes said. "We've got to step on their necks.''"We have to find a way not to get complacent,'' Grant Hill said. "After knocking them out, we let them back into the game.''Despite the letup, Hill feels the Suns are getting better."We
talked in November and December that we were a work in progress,'' he
said. "I think we're here now. We're confident. We feel better about
ourselves than we did four or six weeks ago.''After a tight
fourth quarter, O'Neal put the Suns ahead for good, 99-98, with a foul
shot with 1:49 remaining. Steve Nash followed with a jumper and Amare
Stoudemire made a jump hook, giving the Suns a 103-98 advantage.Nash
finished with 23 points and six assists, Leandro Barbosa scored 22
points and Stoudemire had 17 for the Suns. Barnes added 10 rebounds.Smith
led the Hawks with 24 points. He was followed by Mike Bibby with 17,
Marvin Williams with 16 and Flip Murray with 14. Williams also had 12
rebounds, Zaza Pachulia 11 and Smith 10.The Suns got off quickly
for the second straight game, scoring the first seven points and
building a 31-14 lead in the opening quarter. They increased the
advantage to 19 points early in the second, but as is their habit, they
let the other team back."This has been our trademark in recent
games and we haven't won any of them,'' Smith said. "Our starting unit
has to get off to a better start because our bench is coming in and
doing a good job ... giving us big energy.''With Murray
collecting 10 points in the second period, the Hawks outscored the Suns
17-7 over the final six minutes of the quarter and pulled within 50-46
at halftime.The Suns' defense was the story early, as they held
Atlanta to 1-of-10 shooting to start the game and limited the Hawks'
top scorers, Joe Johnson and Bibby, to a total of seven points by the
half. But the Hawks got scoring contributions from a total of nine
players in mounting their first-half comeback.After a sizzling
beginning, when they made 13 of 19 shots in the first period, the Suns
cooled off and were only 8-of-19 in the second quarter. The Hawks,
meanwhile, were only 5-of-24 in the opening period but 12-of-19 in the
second quarter.The tenacious Hawks continued to battle in the
third period. After falling behind 59-50, they fought back and took the
lead for the first time, 75-73, on Williams' three-point play with two
minutes remaining. But the Suns scored the final eight points of the
quarter, including 3s by Nash and Barbosa, and regained the lead at
81-75 heading into the final period.Atlanta's starting center,
Al Horford, the only unanimous choice on last year's All-Rookie team,
did not accompany the team on its current three-game road trip because
of a bruised right knee.Notes: Nash's two 3-pointers in the
first half made him the 19th player in NBA history with 1,300 3s. He
also is the third player to reach 1,300 3s and 7,000 assists. The
others are Tim Hardaway and Jason Kidd. ... O'Neal has scored at least
15 points in 12 consecutive games. ... The Suns are on pace to win
their fifth consecutive field goal shooting percentage title, leading
the league in that category.

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