NBA

Bledsoe leads Suns past Hawks, into tie for playoff spot

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The Canadian Press
3/24/2014 10:22:59 PM
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ATLANTA -- Phoenix blitzed the Atlanta Hawks early from the 3-point stripe.

Then, the Suns finished it off from long range.

Eric Bledsoe scored 20 points, four teammates reached double figures and Phoenix won its fourth in a row, beating the Atlanta Hawks 102-95 on Monday night to pull even with Dallas for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Suns knocked down 12 of 24 from 3-point range, including back-to-back treys that clinched it. Bledsoe made all three of his attempts, while Channing Frye was 4-of-9 outside the arc to account for the bulk of his 18 points. Goran Dragic had 19 points, Markieff Morris 17 and Gerald Green 13.

Overall, Phoenix shot 51 per cent from the field, while holding the Hawks to just under 42 per cent.

"On offence, everybody was engaged, everybody was focused," Dragic said. "If you defend like that, then we can run, we hit 3s, and it's much easier to play like that."

Atlanta, trying to hold the eighth spot in the East, lost its third in a row after a season-high five-game winning streak. Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll led the Hawks with 19 points apiece. Jeff Teague and Lou Williams each had 17.

With the score tied at 59, Phoenix took control with a 14-4 run near the end of the third quarter. Bledsoe got it started with a drive to the basket, and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer picked up a technical foul for griping about the officiating. Bledsoe made the free throw, turning it into a three-point play.

Frye took over from there, swishing three straight jumpers -- including a 3-pointer -- sandwiched around Dragic swiping an Atlanta pass and driving for a layup. The Suns closed the half on a Dragic's end-to-end drive, the Slovenian guard banking in the shot with 1.5 seconds left for a 77-68 lead heading to the fourth.

"I think the best thing about this team is there's no selfishness," Frye said.

The Hawks got as close as four in the closing period, but Phoenix sealed the victory on consecutive 3s by Markieff Morris and Bledsoe, stretching the lead to 98-86 with 2 1/2 minutes left.

"They put a lot of pressure on you early in the shot clock. They put a lot of pressure on matchup," Budenholzer said. "To beat a good team like that, you've got to play with a lot of energy in transition defence."

Dragic (six assists) and Bledsoe (four) were able to blow past the Hawks' defenders off the dribble, setting up shots both inside and out.

"They've got good penetrating guards surrounded by shooters," Millsap said. "You've got to choose your poison with them."

Locked in a tight battle for playoff positioning, the Suns are trying not to worry about what's going on around them. They improved to 42-29, tied for eighth with Dallas and just a half-game behind Memphis, which also won Monday. Phoenix is within three games of Portland and Golden State as well.

"It's about us," Frye said. "We have to play like we're already in it."

The teams were coming off contrasting performances on the road the previous day.

The Suns overcame a 22-point deficit at Minnesota to win 127-120, their biggest comeback of the season. Atlanta, on the other hand, squandered an 11-point lead going to the fourth quarter at Toronto, outscored by the Raptors 36-15 over the final 12 minutes.

Atlanta faded again at home, squandering a 52-44 lead early in the third.

The Suns jumped ahead 11-2 in the opening minutes, setting the tone with its 3-point shooting. Dragic, Frye and Bledsoe hit three straight from outside the stripe, while the Hawks missed their first six shots.

But Atlanta tightened up defensively and began hitting some shots, tying the game at 23 by late in the period. The Hawks were up 45-42 at halftime.

NOTES: The Hawks played their third straight game without G Kyle Korver, who is hampered by back spasms. Budenholzer said there's no timetable for Korver's return. ... Shelvin Mack started in place of Korver. ... P.J. Tucker led the Suns with 11 rebounds. Phoenix held a 39-32 edge on the boards. ... The Suns swept the season series, following up a 129-120 victory in Phoenix three weeks earlier.

Eric Bledsoe (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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