Booing Johnson incessantly, the crowd of 16,992 at America West Arena helped boost the Suns to an easy 112-94 victory over Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night.
“I expected it,” Johnson said, “but it was more than I thought it would be. I’m glad this one’s over.”
Last season, the raucous Phoenix fans showered Johnson with cheers during the team’s 62-victory season. This time, they showed no mercy for the veteran guard, who bolted the Suns during the summer for the worst team in the NBA.
“It was funny,” Johnson said of the fickle fans. “Now I was on the opposite side. It was fool’s gold. It was fun coming back home, but I’m glad it’s over.”
The Suns’ winning streak is the longest in the NBA and lifted them within a half- game of Pacific Division co-leaders Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State. It also was Phoenix’s sixth straight home victory and the eighth game in a row the Suns have held an opponent under 100 points.
Johnson, who went from Phoenix to Atlanta 3 1/2 months ago, scored 23 points in his first game with the Hawks against his former team, but sat out the final 15 minutes when the outcome no longer was in doubt.
“I didn’t want to get out there again—to get more boos,” he said.
The Suns’ early balance was too much for the overmatched Hawks, who lost their fifth straight and fell to 2-14, the worst record in the league.
Rookie Marvin Williams had season-highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds for Atlanta, most of them in the fourth quarter, and Salim Stoudemire had 14 points.
Johnson went to the Hawks on Aug. 19 in a sign-and-trade deal for Diaw, two conditional first-round draft picks and a $6 million trade exemption, which the Suns used a portion of to acquire Jones from Indiana in another sign-and-trade transaction.
“If I had to do it again, I would make the same decision,” Johnson said.
Johnson was warmly greeted by his former teammates and Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni during pregame warmups, but the Phoenix fans were not so kind during the introductions, offering much more boos than cheers. The crowd showed its dislike even more for Johnson during the game, booing him each time he touched the ball. As the game progressed, the booing got louder. Only when he committed a foul or a turnover did the fans cheer.
Johnson had a sensational first half, scoring 21 points. After missing his first three field goal attempts, he hit eight in a row.
Still, his effort wasn’t good enough, as the Suns had a 57-36 lead at halftime, with the help of Marion’s 16 points, Jones’ 13 and Diaw’s 10.
Atlanta coach Mike Woodson and the Suns felt sorry for Johnson.
“I don’t know what for,” Woodson said of the booing. “This guy gave them some good years. He didn’t deserve that. He can walk out of this locker room with his head held high.”
“It was a little unfair,” said Steve Nash, Johnson’s backcourt partner last season. “I was surprised, but he was tough enough to handle it. I felt for him. It’s difficult for him in that situation.”
The Suns virtually put the game away in the opening quarter, outscoring the Hawks 25-10, Atlanta’s fewest points in any period this season and the fewest allowed by the Suns. During that 12-minute stretch, Atlanta was 4-of-20 from the field, including 0-for-7 by Tyronn Lue. Atlanta also had seven turnovers, leading to 12 Phoenix points, and by halftime, the Hawks had 12 turnovers, four by Johnson, helping the Suns score 18 points.
Phoenix held Johnson to two points in the third quarter and increased its advantage to 37 points, 88-51, by the end of the period. The turnover parade continued, with Atlanta committing nine more, leading to 11 Phoenix points.
The Suns, who had an 11-0 run spanning the first and second periods, had a 13-0 spree in the third quarter.
The Hawks’ Josh Smith was ejected 1:31 into the third quarter for elbowing Raja Bell in the head, a flagrant two foul, and teammate Zaza Pachulia was ejected 2 minutes later after being tagged with two technical fouls. … Johnson has played in 292 consecutive regular-season games, second to Morris Peterson of Toronto, who has 296. … The Hawks are on pace to win fewer than last season’s league low of 13 games. … The last time the Suns held eight straight opponents under 100 points was the final four games of the 2003-04 season and the first four games of the 2004-05 season. The last time they held eight consecutive opponents under 100 in a single season was 2003-04 (Jan. 15-27).