More specifically, the two-time NBA MVP knew the Suns had to win to restore some credibility after three straight losses and an embarrassing performance two days ago at Charlotte.
“Maybe guys were just tired of losing,” Nash said. “I just thought we were more determined. I thought there was more fight in us.”
Nash, who finished with 14 points and 13 assists, was pleased that owner Robert Sarver flew to Atlanta for Saturday’s practice and joined general manager Steve Kerr in a team meeting. It was clear that management demands a better return on a $74.2 million payroll that ranks eighth in the league.
“It sort of felt like it was a big game,” Nash said. “I like that. It feels better when it’s a big game.”
Added Grant Hill: “We did a lot of soul searching—team meetings, talks. It all comes down to guys (either) make shots or miss shots.”
Stoudemire and Nash worked together at the top of the key for a give-and-go that made it 102-99 with 26.2 seconds remaining. After Josh Smith fouled him at the end of the play, Stoudemire hit the ensuing free throw.
“Screen and roll,” Stoudemire said. “Steve was driving and driving, and my guy was trying to contain him. I just followed up there and Steve found the pocket and passed it off to me and I was able to finish the game off.”
The Hawks had won three straight, but scored just one field goal, a short jumper by Solomon Jones with 16.9 seconds remaining, after the reserve center gave Atlanta its last lead, 95-94, at the 6:06 mark.
O’Neal hit two free throws to put Phoenix ahead 96-95 for the game’s 19th and final lead change.
Hawks coach Mike Woodson thought his team played hard, but couldn’t overcome having Joe Johnson miss all seven of attempts from the field in the fourth quarter. Josh Smith went 1-for-5 in the final period.
“Every loss is tough, but it’s like we are going to go and hide,” Woodson said. “We are pretty good at home, so we will be OK. This is basketball. We are trying to secure that fourth seed in the playoffs, and tomorrow we have to go to Miami and get it back.”
Reserve guard Leandro Barbosa had 20 points for the Suns, who had lost five of six and were coming off a season-worst 22-point loss at Charlotte. Phoenix improved to 10-0 on the road and 21-3 overall when leading after three quarters.
“Tonight was a big win for us,” Stoudemire said. “It snapped our losing streak. I think as a team we can still get better.”
Marvin Williams’ 17 points were a team high for Atlanta, which had won four of five. The Hawks’ backcourt of Mike Bibby and Johnson went a combined 7-for-33 from the field, including a 2-for-13 performance beyond the arc.
“They were obviously defending us (well), but it was a lack of execution on our part,” Williams said. “But that’s never an excuse. We just didn’t play defense and make the stops we needed to.”
Atlanta’s biggest lead of the fourth quarter came at the 9:31 mark after Josh Smith’s dunk made it 88-85.
The Suns, who entered with a 16.4 turnover average that was second-worst in the league, committed 21 miscues that led to 23 points for Atlanta. Phoenix was coming off a season-high 24 turnovers in a season-worst 22-point loss at Charlotte.
With the 2-3 road trip ending Monday in Washington, Nash believes the Suns are beginning to find a niche in their first season under Porter.
“We started the game with exceptional energy defensively,” Nash said. “We had some lapses, but we got it back toward the end of the game, and we were rewarded for it.”
Woodson said C Al Horford is expected to stay home, missing his ninth and 10th straight games with a bruised right knee, when Atlanta visits Miami on Monday and New York on Wednesday. … Phoenix has won 25 of 33 against the Hawks and eight of 10 in Atlanta. … The Hawks dropped to 17-5 at home, 5-1 against the Western Conference. … When trailing after three quarters, Atlanta is 4-4 at home, 6-12 overall.