ATLANTA — Elton Brand called it disheartening and disappointing. Coach Mike Budenholzer called it a tough loss.
The Phoenix Suns used a 3-point shooting barrage to deal the Atlanta Hawks their third straight loss on Monday, 102-95, allowing the New York Knicks to sneak a half game closer for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks (31-38), clinging to the that eighth and final spot in the East, lead the Knicks (29-41) by 2-and-a-half games. Atlanta has 13 games remaining. The Knicks have 12.
"We feel good that it’s our spot," Brand (four points, three rebounds in 17 minutes) said of the playoffs. "If we handle what we have to do, do what we have to do, we’ll be fine. We don’t have to look at them to do anything. We win some games, our destiny’s in our own hands so we feel good that we’re in that position.
"We just lost some really close games that we had leads in all of them. That’s the disappointing part, after winning five in a row to lose three in a row when we had leads in the second half. That’s disheartening, that part."
A week ago when the Hawks won their fifth in a row, Kyle Korver made the statement that the Hawks are not streaky, they just happened to be healthy when they were winning. Once again, the injury bug has hit — ironically, this time in the form of Korver himself.
He missed his third straight game on Monday with back spasms. Incidentally, in a meeting of two of the league’s top 3-point-shooting teams, his presence would have helped.
Phoenix made 12-of-24 3-pointers. Channing Frye made 4-of-9 of those 3-pointers to finish with 18 points. Eric Bledsoe made all three of his 3-pointers and ended with a game-high 20 points.
The Hawks shot 8-for-23 from behind the 3-point arc.
Budenholzer noted that it’s been a tough four days, the entire length of the three-game losing streak. In a Hawks’ loss at Phoenix on March 2, Phoenix scored 40 in the first quarter and had 79 by halftime. The Hawks only had one bad defensive quarter on Monday — the third, as Phoenix scored 35 — but the 3-point shooting was a constant throughout.
"In the first quarter, we played good defense, they just got away from us in transition," said Budenholzer said. "Goran Dragic got the one in front of their bench and then I think it was Frye who hit one in trail in transition. They put a lot of pressure on you early in the (shot) clock and they put a lot of pressure to get matched-up. â¦
"Those two or three in transition are the ones that stand out to me. They’re the ones that are most difficult. If you want to beat a good team like them, you’ve got to put a lot of energy and effort into your transition defense."
Shortly after halftime, the Hawks grabbed their largest lead of the game, 52-44 on a 3-pointer by Shelvin Mack. That’s when the game got away from the Hawks, as the Suns finished out the period on a 33-16 run. Budenholzer said he thought penetration by the Suns’ guards began to create easy shots at the rim and also open 3-point looks.
Asked about the playoff picture, Budenholzer spoke of the need to improve over 48 minutes.
"We can’t digress," he said.
One of the few positives was the performance off the bench by guard Lou Williams, who scored 17. Williams, who did not play for six straight games until Korver was a late scratch on Friday, posted his highest points total since Feb. 18 when he scored 18 against Indiana.
"I felt pretty good," Williams said. "Taking some games off, I continued to work out, make sure my wind was good. I was just prepared to step in whenever needed."
Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll each scored a team-high of 19 points for the Hawks. Millsap stressed the need to win as many games as possible down the stretch. He was asked if the Hawks recent play was troublesome in terms of the team being able to hold on to its playoff lead over New York.
"As long as the Knicks are losing," he said with a laugh. "You know? We’ve still got a level head. We know we have a chance to make it so continue to stay positive, continue to push forward."â