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Chriss’ game-saving block pushes mistake-prone Suns past Hawks

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and Atlanta Hawks guard Kent Bazemore battle for a loose ball in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Phoenix. The Suns defeated the Hawks 104-103. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — For most, it’d end as a mistake.

For Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss, what looked like a mistake was a game-saving play.

Chriss wrapped a 17-point, 11-rebound effort with a block on Atlanta Hawks forward Taurean Prince at the rim with 6.8 seconds left, and the Suns survived for a 104-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

They found themselves with an opportunity to win courtesy of an Atlanta meltdown in the final three minutes, but as the Hawks’ final play unfolded, Chriss and the Suns looked like they were about to come up short.

Chriss hesitated as his man, Prince, screened for Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder, and Prince slipped the screen as Suns guard Isaiah Canaan and Chriss stood square with Schroder. The point guard lobbed a high pass to Prince, who attempted to dunk the ball before Chriss flew in for the block.

“I just had to try to run and catch up. He lofted the ball a little too much,” Chriss said. “I think I got a chance at pretty much every block I go for. I bet on myself. If it doesn’t turn out, then it wasn’t meant to be.”

For Chriss, the game marked his fifth straight with a blocked shot after a string of five without a rejection.

Lately, he’s been more assertive, less chatty with referees and has recovered from mistakes by following them up with winning plays.

“I think the way he plays and if he has that energy, he’s going to create plays that bring momentum to us,” Triano said of Chriss before Tuesday’s game. “Now I think earlier (in his career) the mistakes were compounded. I think the other night (against Philadelphia) was a good example because he had three fouls in the first half and other times earlier in the year might’ve quit in the second half or looked at the refs.”

On Tuesday after an illegal screen was called on Chriss, the Hawks led by 12 with five minutes left, yet the second year power forward responded with a block of center Miles Plumlee, a three-point shot with 1:29 left and his game-saving swat in the final seconds.

Triano believes, quite simply, Chriss is finally in shape after entering training camp overweight.

“I think when he’s not in great shape, he has a tendency to loaf up and down the court. We haven’t seen a lot of that,” Triano added. “Being in better shape makes him more aware of what’s going on and (able to) read and react to different situations. We all know he had a rough summer.”

On Tuesday, Phoenix wouldn’t have been there in the last 10 seconds if it hadn’t recovered from a 22-turnover game that led to 23 Hawks points. The Suns trailed by as many as 14 and didn’t play with enough energy in Triano’s mind, allowing 18 second-chance points on 17 offensive boards.

Atlanta’s pressing defense on the perimeter led to a healthy dose of Devin Booker and T.J. Warren isolations high above the three-point arc for much of the game. Warren, who closed with 31 points, hit a driving floater off the glass that gave the Suns a 49-48 lead, their first of the game, at halftime before they dug a hole of another double-digit deficit.

“I wasn’t pleased with the way we played,” Triano said. “Throughout the game, I didn’t like our energy level. I told them in a couple timeouts, they’re 1-for-4, but that’s because they were getting second chances. The lineup at the end, they got into it and they were a little bit better defensively.”


Booker led the way with 34 for the Suns, but after scoring 18 in the first half, his first second-half field goal came with 2:23 left in the game; the layup made it a 99-91 Atlanta lead. From then on, the Hawks missed 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch.

After two misses by the former Suns center, Plumlee, Booker hit a three-pointer out of a timeout thanks to an elevator screen play on the left wing, turning a 101-96 Atlanta lead into a two-point game.

“Got a good look, threw the ball up, closed my eyes and it went in,” Booker said.

Schroder turned the ball over on a charge of Canaan on the next possession, and Booker was then fouled by Kent Bazemore for three free throws that gave Phoenix a 102-101 lead. Booker hit two more free throws to seal the win after Chriss’ block.

Booker finished with seven assists and eight turnovers.

“Every time that he tried to do something, two guys were on him. I think he was trying to be unselfish,” Triano said. “He plays basketball the right way. I thought he did a pretty good job of giving it up. He wasn’t as sharp as he could be.”


Rookie forward Josh Jackson didn’t appear in the Suns’ win, the first time he hasn’t played in a game this season, and Triano confirmed he was a healthy scratch.

“It just didn’t fit rotation-wise tonight. I tried to get that second unit going if I can a little bit. He’ll be back soon,” the interim coach said.

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