Possibly the most anticipated basketball game of the season was set to go down Sunday afternoon at Philips Arena as the Hawks and Suns squared off in a huge matchup to decide positioning in the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery. This game was sure to be an adventure from start to finish to say the least.
The Hawks inactives for Sunday’s game included DeAndre’ Bembry, who simply cannot catch a break this season when it comes to staying healthy. Antonius Cleveland, whom the Hawks signed to second 10-day contract recently, is also still out rehabbing from ankle surgery, but did participate in pregame shootaround. Kent Bazemore was held out of today’s game as well in an effort to get him some much-deserved rest.
The Hawks transferred their two-way players Andrew White III and Josh Magette back to the Erie Bayhawks.
As the first quarter kicked off between these two goliath teams, it was clear things were going to go downhill quickly. Taurean Prince was knocking down his three-point attempts early but was having trouble with turnovers as well. Elfrid Payton’s hair and Dennis Schroder went back and forth early as Payton was able to get to the rim with ease while Schroder was in the game. The same could be said for Schroder who hit two runners in the lane against Payton. Dewayne Dedmon had a mini scoring burst starting with a fast break dunk followed up by a nice long-range shot for three. T.J. Warren started his great first half with a couple of jumpers in the first, but Phoenix took a 29-23 deficit into the second.
The second quarter was another great slugfest as the teams exchanged kicked ball turnovers to open the period. Jaylen Morris, who joined the Hawks on a 10-day contract recently, was able to make his way into the game showing off some nice footwork on defense and getting into the paint for a floater on the other end. Marquese Chriss, of all people, decided to turn into Steph Curry hitting two three-pointers in the second and Warren continued his onslaught of driving dunks and shots around the rim as the Hawk defenders displayed very little interest in stopping him. Schroder had a quick five-point swing toward the end of the quarter but Dragan Bender flushed a huge three on the Hawks to end the quarter as the Hawks and Suns played to a tie at 56 in a first half that resembled more of a pickup game than NBA basketball.
After a first half that featured 22 combined turnovers, the teams at least began to score more consistently as Schroder and Payton exchanged layups to open the third. Warren added to his great first half of 21 points with an easy drive past Prince for a jam and for Atlanta, it was Schroder, who carried them in the third hitting on three straight jump shots and assisting on an alley-oop to Miles Plumlee and a three-pointer by Prince. Chriss continued summon his imitation of prime Dan Majerle on the offensive end making every three-pointer he attempted, and Warren finished a ridiculous oop from half court to put Phoenix up momentarily. Malcolm Delaney rolled his ankle badly at the end of the third with one second remaining and then the Hawks completely forgot about basketball as Devin Booker caught a full court pass for a layup at the buzzer to give the Suns an 87-86 at the end of three.
Naturally, the fourth quarter began for Atlanta with a turnover on their first possession which was then followed with an offensive basket interference call on their next trip down the floor. Troy Daniels got in on the fun for Phoenix hitting a ridiculous fading three-pointer to put the Suns back in front. The Suns really got rolling after consecutive made shots from Daniels and Booker that had the Hawks down seven with just over seven minutes to go. The Hawks would not go quietly though with eight straight points to retake the lead while getting some huge shots from Mike Muscala.
The teams continued to go back and forth in the closing minutes with neither team being able to pull away. A small skirmish broke out after Prince began jawing with Josh Jackson after Prince was called for goaltending that led to technical fouls on Prince and Jackson with Isaiah Taylor and Payton getting ejected. The Hawks then compounded problems by fouling Booker for a three plus one opportunity. With the game tied at 110 with under a minute remaining there was another long video review to determine possession, which Phoenix retained. Then, with just over 30 seconds remaining, there was another video replay after Prince couldn’t keep the ball from going out of bounds and Phoenix was awarded the ball again with yet another chance to break the tie.
Phoenix came down the floor very quickly and got a nice finish from Warren to give the Suns a 112-110 lead. Prince thought little of that as he came down and responded with a cold-blooded three to give Atlanta another lead with just under 8 second remaining.
Booker had a chance to win it and got a good look from the baseline but shot it just long as the Hawks would go on to win the battle of the bottom feeders.
Prince finished with 22 points and six three-pointers for Atlanta while Warren turned in an absolute monster of a game for Phoenix scoring 35 in the loss. Schroder added 21 points and did not play in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks will be back to work on Tuesday north of the border as the team will travel to take on the East leading Raptors. Stay tuned.