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Suns win 6th straight, close in on first in Pacific

Former Phoenix player Johnson says he \'appreciates\' hostile reception from fans on return with Atlanta Hawks

Suns win 6th straight, close in on first in Pacific

The Atlanta Hawks came.

They saw their US$70 million man, Joe Johnson, get booed every time he touched the ball.

And then they left, after suffering through a 10-point first quarter, a 15-point third quarter, a 37-point deficit and their 14th loss in 16 games, a 112-94 laugher to the surging Suns. The final spread was only that close because, long after Johnson had sat down for the night, the Hawks put up 43 fourth-quarter points, which might just be a garbage-time record.

Winning their season-best sixth straight game wasn't the hard part for the Suns (10-5), who are now within a half-game of the Pacific Division lead. Heck, a forgetful Leandro Barbosa had a harder time rounding up a sport coat to wear on the bench - he finally borrowed one from a security guard just before tipoff - than the Suns did building a quick 18-6 lead and never looking back.

Watching their friend and ex-teammate endure the wrath of 16,992 fans who came not to praise Johnson but to bury him? That was tougher.

"I love the kid, so it was hard to see. I don't hold any grudges," said guard Steve Nash, who had 10 points and seven assists in a season-low 27 minutes. "It's easy to say he just left for the money, but he could have had the money here, too. A lot of factors went into it."

Met with a shower of boos in the pregame introductions - which continued into the second half - Johnson had 21 of Atlanta's 36 first-half points. He sat down for good late in the third quarter with a game-high 23 and the game already safely out of hand.

"(The reaction) was kind of fun . . . I always expect the worst," Johnson said afterward. "It kind of gave me an adrenaline rush, so I really appreciate what they did. Every time I come here, if I can get that, I'd appreciate it."

Hawks coach Mike Woodson had a different take. "I don't know (what the booing) was for. He gave them some good years here. The bottom line is he was a top free agent and we were in a position to pursue him and we're happy to have him. I don't think he deserved that . . . but they're the fans."

Shawn Marion had 20 points, as did James Jones, who put up 12 shots in 28 minutes after coach Mike D'Antoni scolded him for passing up an open jumper when he first entered the game.

"I'm kind of over my first little slump in Phoenix, and it feels good to get over it," Jones said. "This was a game that, if you lose, you kick yourself in the butt come playoff time."

Jones and Boris Diaw (14 points), two byproducts of this summer's Johnson sign-and-trade deal - two first-round picks are still to come - combined for 34 points and 10 rebounds. Diaw added nine assists in 33 minutes, one more than the entire Hawks team.

Atlanta did lead the way in technical fouls (4-0), flagrant fouls (2-0) and ejections (2-0), but that was about it.

"They're an NBA team, so you have to respect them," Marion said. "We came out, played our game, took them out of everything they wanted to do and won."

Raja Bell said he felt lucky that a blindside, forearm shiver from Atlanta's Josh Smith missed his face and caught him on the side of the head two minutes into the fourth quarter. Smith was ejected for the flagrant foul.

"We got tangled up down on the other end and I knew he wasn't happy, but I wasn't expecting that," Bell said. "I think it was supposed to get me in the jaw, so I guess it could have been worse."

Bell's defensive tactics have him on the unpopular list of many players. Earlier this week, he got into it with Indiana guard Stephen Jackson, who screamed, "Don't grab me anymore, man!" after one trip down the floor.

"Some guys just can't stand having defense played against them," Bell said.

In other NBA action: Boston 102, New York 99; Seattle 107, Indiana 102; Minnesota 85, Sacramento 77; Utah 98, Portland 93; LA Lakers 99, Charlotte 98.


Updated : 2021-07-26 00:59 GMT+08:00