It was Shaquille O'Neal's night again -- and thank God for it! Without him, the Suns would've lost to the Atlanta Hawks, who led the game at US Airways Center late in the fourth quarter before a Suns spurt.
O'Neal had 26 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes against the 22-15 Hawks, who these days feature former Shadow Mountain High School and Arizona Wildcats phenom Mike Bibby at point guard. The former Sacramento Kings star had 17 points -- and along with forward Josh Smith, who had 24 points -- brought the Hawks back from double-digit deficits Tuesday night.
As for former Sun Joe Johnson, he wasn't much of a factor with 11 points in 42 minutes for Atlanta.
It was the third straight win for the Suns, and the fourth straight loss for the Hawks.
Steve Nash had 6 assists and 23 points, including 4 of 7 from the three-point line. In fact, 11 threes bolstered the Suns in the game. Leandro Barbosa hit 4 of 5, Matt Barnes hit 2 of 3, and Jason Richardson hit 1 of 4.
Still, without Shaq's steady presence in the middle, the Suns would've been toast. He hit 10 of 17 field goals. The Suns are 8-1 this season when the he scores 20 or more points.
His only deficiency was free-throwing; after making 12 in a row in the past two wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers, he went 6 of 11 against Atlanta.
But it was a made foul shot by O'Neal that put the Suns up 99-98, and they never relinquished the lead. Nash then hit a jumper, and Amar'e Stoudemire hit a jump hook to seal the deal at 103-98.
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It was lucky for the 22-13 Suns that Atlanta center Al Horford, out with a bruised right knee, didn't play. The star member of last year's All-Rookie team, Horford has averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds a game this season. He might've been the difference for the Hawks on this night.
Next up: Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets at 8:30 p.m Thursday in Denver.