O'Neal had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and the Suns won their third straight Tuesday night with a 107-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, who lost their fourth in a row.
The Suns are 8-1 this season when O'Neal scores 20 or more points. This was his ninth 20-point game of the season, surpassing his total of eight all last season.
"Shaq is playing like the Shaq of old," Atlanta's Josh Smith said. "And when he is down there making moves ... it makes it tough to defend."
O'Neal made 10 of his 17 field goal attempts, but for the first time in three games he missed a foul shot. After making 12 without a miss in his previous two games, he misfired on five of 11 against Atlanta in an otherwise strong performance.
"Shaq was great," Suns coach Terry Porter said. "He had good patience and was able to score."
In winning for the sixth time in seven games, the Suns (22-13) improved to nine games over .500 for the first time this season. But they almost let a 19-point lead slip away.
"When we get a big lead, we can't let up," Matt Barnes said. "We've got to step on their necks."
"We have to find a way not to get complacent," Grant Hill said. "After knocking them out, we let them back into the game."
Despite the letup, Hill feels the Suns are getting better.
"We talked in November and December that we were a work in progress," he said. "I think we're here now. We're confident. We feel better about ourselves than we did four or six weeks ago."
After a tight fourth quarter, O'Neal put the Suns ahead for good, 99-98, with a foul shot with 1:49 remaining. Steve Nash followed with a jumper and Amare Stoudemire made a jump hook, giving the Suns a 103-98 advantage.
Nash finished with 23 points and six assists, Leandro Barbosa scored 22 points and Stoudemire had 17 for the Suns. Barnes added 10 rebounds.
The Suns got off quickly for the second straight game, scoring the first seven points and building a 31-14 lead in the opening quarter. They increased the advantage to 19 points early in the second, but as is their habit, they let the other team back.
"This has been our trademark in recent games and we haven't won any of them," Smith said. "Our starting unit has to get off to a better start because our bench is coming in and doing a good job ... giving us big energy."
With Murray collecting 10 points in the second period, the Hawks outscored the Suns 17-7 over the final six minutes of the quarter and pulled within 50-46 at halftime.
The Suns' defense was the story early, as they held Atlanta to 1-of-10 shooting to start the game and limited the Hawks' top scorers, Joe Johnson and Bibby, to a total of seven points by the half. But the Hawks got scoring contributions from a total of nine players in mounting their first-half comeback.
After a sizzling beginning, when they made 13 of 19 shots in the first period, the Suns cooled off and were only 8-of-19 in the second quarter. The Hawks, meanwhile, were only 5-of-24 in the opening period but 12-of-19 in the second quarter.
The tenacious Hawks continued to battle in the third period. After falling behind 59-50, they fought back and took the lead for the first time, 75-73, on Williams' three-point play with two minutes remaining. But the Suns scored the final eight points of the quarter, including 3s by Nash and Barbosa, and regained the lead at 81-75 heading into the final period.
Atlanta's starting center, Al Horford, the only unanimous choice on last year's All-Rookie team, did not accompany the team on its current three-game road trip because of a bruised right knee.
Nash's two 3-pointers in the first half made him the 19th player in NBA history with 1,300 3s. He also is the third player to reach 1,300 3s and 7,000 assists. The others are Tim Hardaway and Jason Kidd. ... O'Neal has scored at least 15 points in 12 consecutive games. ... The Suns are on pace to win their fifth consecutive field goal shooting percentage title, leading the league in that category.
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