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Suns pull away from Hawks in 3rd quarter
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ATLANTA — On the eve of his 38th birthday, Steve Nash showed he can still control a game.

Nash had 24 points and 11 assists while missing only three shots, and the Phoenix Suns closed the third quarter with a 24-6 run and beat the Atlanta Hawks 99-90 on Monday night.

Nash, whose birthday is Tuesday, made nine of 12 shots — including each of his four 3-pointers.

"He's still one of the better point guards in the league," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "He's very crafty. He gets the ball to the open man. He's still making shots. He's 38, but you'd never know it when you watch him play."

Nash had discomfort in his right shoulder during the team's shooting practice Monday morning and again before the game.

"I feel good and I enjoy playing," Nash said after having treatment on the shoulder following the game.

Nash said the shoulder "wasn't bad."

Channing Frye, who had 19 points, said Nash doesn't show his age on the court.

"He never plays like his age, and he's always getting involved," Frye said. "He's huge for our team. He's awesome to play with."

Nash, the NBA's leader with 9.9 assists per game, showed no sign he was bothered by a sore shoulder. He played the full first and third periods and had a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the first half.

"It was strange because when that shot left his hand, I just knew it was going in," Drew said. "I just had a feeling it was going in. I've seen him do it a number of times."

Frye had a 3-pointer and another basket in the closing minutes to help the Suns stop Atlanta's final comeback attempt.

"I thought Channing shot the ball well, and when he does that, we're pretty good," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.

After trailing by 16 in the second quarter, the Hawks recovered to trail only 60-58 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Joe Johnson and Josh Smith in the third period. Nash had another 3 before the shot clock expired to help the Suns launch the decisive run to lead 84-64 entering the final period.

Smith had 18 points, and Johnson had 17.

Nash and the other starters sat out most of the final period before returning after the Hawks cut the lead to 94-83 with less than 4 minutes remaining.

The Suns play at Milwaukee on Tuesday, so Nash said "it would have been nice" to rest the full final period.

"But it got dangerous," Nash said. "We weren't scoring."

The Suns have won three of four. Meanwhile, the Hawks suffered their third straight loss, all at home, after a 4-1 road trip.

"For whatever reason, they are struggling a bit, but they are a real good team," Gentry said of the Hawks. "I think every team goes through ups and downs, and it's not unlike what others have gone through — like Miami, Oklahoma City and the Lakers. When the schedule is the way it is, it's real difficult to be up and ready to go every night."

The Hawks are facing a critical shortage of centers. Backup Jason Collins will miss at least two weeks after he sprained his left elbow in Thursday's loss to Memphis. All-Star Al Horford was lost for three months with a torn left pectoral muscle on Jan. 11.

Center Zaza Pachulia was left with little help against the Suns' two 6-foot-11 starters, Frye and Marcin Gortat, and 7-foot backup Robin Lopez. The Hawks moved to a smaller lineup when Pachulia was called for his fourth foul with 8:09 remaining in the third period.

The lack of size was no excuse for the Hawks' inability to contain Nash, who had 17 points in his dominant first half.

After Phoenix had a big first-half lead of 16 at 43-27, Atlanta needed a late surge to avoid trailing by double figures at halftime for the third straight game.

A steal and free throw by Smith helped start Atlanta's 17-9 run to close the half. Johnson sank a 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds remaining to cut the Suns' lead to four points. Nash answered by launching his buzzer-beating 3 to give Phoenix a 55-48 lead at the break.

Notes: G Jared Dudley started and had 10 points after missing one game for Phoenix with a thigh bruise. Michael Redd also had 10 points. .. Nash made six of seven shots in the first half, including each of his three 3s. ... Wolf Blitzer of Atlanta-based CNN had a front-row seat. ... Willie Green had 14 points for Atlanta, including 10 in the final period.

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