ATLANTA - The stands were packed, and the home team made every big shot down the stretch. Could this possibly be an Atlanta Hawks game?
Josh Smith scored 22 points, rookie Al Horford led a dominant performance on the boards and the Hawks beat another 60-win team from last season, holding off Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns 105-96 on Wednesday night.
Atlanta, which hasn't made the playoffs since 1999, got back to .500 in a brutal opening stretch of games and added to its opening-night win over Dallas. Once again, the Hawks drew a sellout crowd to watch them beat a Western Conference powerhouse.
'The atmosphere here this year is incredible,' said Marvin Williams, one of three Hawks to put up a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. 'It really gives us a boost of confidence.'
Atlanta led throughout the second half, but the Suns were right there when Nash drove for a basket with 4:42 remaining. Williams responded by hitting back-to-back jumpers when left open at the top of the key.
'I guess it was my night,' he said.
Actually, several players came up huge. Smith sealed it in the final 2 minutes, fighting hard on the offensive boards to get a couple of chances off Joe Johnson's missed jumper. The second one rolled in, and Smith was fouled by Grant Hill.
The Atlanta forward let out a yell and slapped hands hard with Acie Law, then went to the line and finished off the three-point play that gave the Hawks a 99-89 lead with 1:47 remaining.
'We feel good about our chances this year,' Smith said. 'This is the team (Phoenix) that everyone has winning the NBA title this year. To play the way we played against them shows we belong in this league.'
Horford grabbed 15 rebounds to lead four Atlanta players in double figures. Smith had 10 rebounds for a double-double and the Hawks finished with a 56-40 rebounding edge, leading to a 29-9 advantage in second-chance points. Josh Childress also had 10 rebounds to go along with 19 points.
Nash scored 34 points, but Shawn Marion, with 20, was the only other significant offensive contributor. The Suns played their third straight game without Amare Stoudemire, who sat out because of a sore knee.
'We ran into a team that's more athletic than we are,' Nash said, a huge compliment to the Hawks.
In a strange second quarter, all the Suns' field goals came from beyond the 3-point stripe. Led by Nash, they were 6-of-13 outside the arc, 0-of-11 from in closer.
While the Hawks failed to hit any 3s in the period, they still managed to seize control. Atlanta led 55-47 at the break and zealously guarded its advantage over the final two periods, beating the Suns at their own game with plenty of hustle plays.
Phoenix was held to its fewest points in five games this season, shooting just 41 percent (35-of-86) from the field. Nash was 7-of-10 from 3-point range.
'They cleaned up everything on the glass,' he said. 'We missed a lot of shots and couldn't overcome that lack of efficiency.'
The Hawks played another close one. They opened the season at home with a 101-94 win over Dallas, then lost two straight road games at Detroit and New Jersey by a total of six points.
'We should be 4-0,' Smith said.
But Atlanta can't complain about breaking even against a brutal opening stretch, which includes five playoff teams among the first six games. The Hawks already have beaten two teams - Dallas and Phoenix - that won more than 60 games last season.
Johnson was held to 15 points, making only 3-of-17 from the field. He offset his poor shooting by doling out 10 assists.
'Joe did a great job all night of finding the open guy,' Williams said. 'It seemed like anytime they left me open, he got me the ball.'
Nash had 11 assists, but the Hawks also swarmed around him to cause six turnovers, including a crucial one with less than a minute to go to finish off the Suns.