Hawks 102, Suns 101
The Atlanta Hawks worked up a play that was supposed to produce an easy basket and overtime.
The plan went awry.
The result was even better.
Jamal Crawford hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap an Atlanta comeback in the final seconds, giving the Hawks a 102-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
``We drew it up to get an easy basket,'' said Atlanta star Joe Johnson, who was doubled off an inbounds pass and never had a chance to get the ball in his hands. ``Luckily, we were able to get the 3.''
The home team trailed 100-96 after Steve Nash hit two free throws with 10 seconds left. But Atlanta squeezed two more possessions out of the clock, and Phoenix missed a couple of chances to put the Hawks away.
The Suns failed to block out when Josh Smith missed the second of two free throws with six seconds to go, allowing Crawford to slip inside for the rebound. After briefly hesitating, wondering if he should throw it outside for a 3, he laid it in to pull the Hawks to 100-99.
Amare Stoudemire was fouled quickly and missed one of his free throws. After a timeout, Mike Bibby inbounded the ball to Crawford, who put up a 28-footer over Jared Dudley.
Nothing but net.
``I knew I was going for a win,'' said Crawford, another step closer to the first playoff appearance of his 10-year NBA career. ``It felt good. I started backing the other way.''
The Suns figured they had done what they needed, keeping the ball away from Johnson and forcing Crawford to put up a 3 with Dudley's hand in his face.
``That's what we wanted - a well-contested shot,'' Stoudemire said. ``But we didn't want to lose. Tough game. A tough game for us.''
The Hawks celebrated wildly. Smith jumped onto the scoring table, pumped his chest and put a hand to an ear while the crowd roared. The officials looked at a replay just to make sure Crawford got off the shot in time, but it left his hand with a full second to spare. There was no doubt he was beyond the 3-point stripe.
Al Horford led the Hawks with 24 points, while Smith had a big game with 20 points and 15 rebounds. But it was Crawford, Atlanta's indispensable new sixth man, who provided the biggest shot of all to finish with 21 points and give the Hawks a chance to reclaim first in the Southeast Division.
With the win, Atlanta briefly moved into a first-place tie with Orlando in the Southeast division, but the Hawks grabbed sole possession of the division lead after the Magic lost 102-87 at Portland later Friday.
``There's no quitting in this team,'' Smith said. ``People thought it was over, but we kept fighting, kept scratching.''
Stoudemire scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half and pulled down 14 rebounds. Grant Hill added 21 points.
With the score tied, Phoenix looked to have pulled off the key defensive stop when Crawford dribbled into a double team and the ball came loose. Nash got to it just ahead of Bibby, flipped a no-look pass to Goran Dragic and watched him go in for a dunk that put the Suns ahead 96-94 with just over a minute remaining.
After Johnson missed - he was only 8 of 22 from the field against his old team - Stoudemire worked around Horford in the lane and rolled in a shot over Smith's outstretched hand to give Phoenix a four-point cushion.
The Suns looked in good shape after an exchange of free throws, but the Hawks had just enough time to pull off the improbable finish.
Outside of the last shot, the biggest play was Phoenix's failure to block out Crawford on Smith's missed free throw. Nash and Hill got tangled up with each other, allowing the loose ball to wind up in Crawford's hands with no one around.
``It was just unlucky,'' Nash said. ``He was hustling and I was going where I was supposed to go and it just bounced right between us.''
After trailing by as many as 12 in the first half, Atlanta ripped off 11 straight points in the third quarter for its first lead since the opening minutes. Bibby sparked the run with a 3-pointer, then Horford and Smith scored four points apiece for a 70-63 lead, which would be Atlanta's largest lead of the night.
The Hawks were up 78-75 heading to the fourth quarter, then suddenly went cold: nine straight misses to begin the period.
Fortunately for Atlanta, the last shot went in.
``Everything had to go right,'' coach Mike Woodson said. ``We were able to pull off the miracle at the end.''
NOTES: The Hawks honored Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins on his 50th birthday with a cake and confetti during a break in the second quarter. Wilkins, now an Atlanta executive and broadcaster, also received a plaid shawl, a walker and reading glasses. ... Bibby had 11 assists for the Hawks, while Nash put up the same number for the Suns.