Josh Smith, whose career best is 32, had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the second half as Atlanta snapped a two-game skid and won for only the third time in eight games.
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns took Joe Johnson out of the game. So Josh Smith took over.
Smith matched his season high with 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to rally the Atlanta Hawks to a 101-99 victory over the Suns on Wednesday night.
Smith, whose career best is 32, had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the second half as Atlanta snapped a two-game skid and won for only the third time in eight games.
Steve Nash, back after a night off as the Suns played their third game in three days, had 22 points and 16 assists. Grant Hill, who also sat out Tuesday night in a loss at Denver, scored 18 points for Phoenix.
Willie Green added 20 for Atlanta, including 4 of 6 3-pointers.
Johnson, hounded by Hill all night, scored just six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“I just wanted to be a little aggressive,” Smith said. “I know they were keying on Joe and we needed offense somewhere else and me and Willie picked up the slack tonight.”
Hawks coach Larry Drew said he was going to take Smith out of the game for a bit early in the fourth quarter and Johnson said don’t do it.
“Joe said, ‘Leave him out there. He’s young,’” Drew said. “I thought he was tired and he played quite a few minutes last night and I wanted to give him a quick blow. He wanted to stay in and I am glad he did because he played a phenomenal game. Inside and out and defensively he was all over the place.”
Atlanta trailed throughout, and by 15 early in the second half, until what amounted to a four-point play with 7:38 remaining. Smith scored on a drive, was fouled and referee Tre Maddox called Nash for a technical. Nash was incredulous afterward but the official ignored him and walked away. Johnson made the technical, and Smith added his free throw to put the Hawks ahead 82-81. That started a 10-0 run that put Atlanta up 88-81 on Green’s fast-break layup with 6:27 remaining.
Nash said that he was trying to tell coach Alvin Gentry that Atlanta was going into the zone defense, and the referee thought he said something else.
“It was tough. It really changed the momentum of the game,” Nash said. “(Kirk) Hinrich called double-fist, which is their zone defense, so I went to the sideline and I really just mouthed to Alvin, ‘They’re in a double-fist I guess and what zone offense do you want us to run?’ and he (Maddox) thought I said, ‘They’re horrible.’
“I don’t want to make any comment about the referees. I’ll just say it’s unfortunate that he misinterpreted what I said. It was just a tough break. It changed the momentum.
The Hawks disrupted the Suns with a late zone defense.
“I thought their zone slowed us down, threw us off,” Nash said. “We got some decent shots, but they’re a little bit out of our rhythm, shots we weren’t normally accustomed to because we haven’t faced a lot of zone.”
Green’s 3 put the Hawks ahead 98-89 with 2:17 to go. Nash drove the lane, then somehow flipped the ball over his head with just enough spin on it for a layup while being fouled. The three-point play cut it to 98-95 with 42.9 seconds to go. The Suns got the ball back after Johnson’s miss and Nash found Channing Frye open for what would have been the tying 3-pointer from the top of the key. But he missed and the Hawks escaped from there.
“The one thing we didn’t do was panic,” Drew said. “The tendency is to panic when you get down a little bit. We maintained our composure,”
The Suns, 0-3 in their stretch of three games in three nights, took the lead with an early 14-0 run that put them up 31-17 on Michael Redd’s three-point play with 1:13 left in the third quarter. The Hawks, coming off a loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, went 5:40 without a point during Phoenix’s outburst.
Atlanta twice cut it to two points in the second quarter, the last time at 42-40 when Zaza Pachulia sank a 15-footer with 5 1/2 minutes left. Nash and Frye followed with 3-pointers to boost the lead to 48-40 and Phoenix led 56-47 at the break.
Nash went down hard on the court with 4:41 to play in the third quarter and came up limping, but walked it off during a timeout and stayed in the game.
Notes: In the last three games, Hill has held Tyreke Evans, Monta Ellis and Johnson to a combined .205 from the field (8 of 39). … The teams split the season series 1-1. The Hawks haven’t won a series against the Suns since 1999, when the teams played only once. … Atlanta is 7-10 when Johnson scores fewer than 20 points. … The Suns committed 20 turnovers to Atlanta’s 14.