The Phoenix Suns suffered their worst loss of the season on Monday night, dropping a road game to the Miami HEAT 107-92. The game was close until the end of the third quarter when Miami woke up to play their best ball while the Suns faded.
LeBron James (35 points), Dwyane Wade (21, 12, 6) and Ray Allen (17) killed the Suns all game long.
Well guess what. The Phoenix Suns were not favored to win on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, third road game in four days, with the defending champion HEAT rested since Friday.
Even the best Suns teams of the past decade would be forgiven for this loss. Even a blowout. Suns fans would curse the schedule makers and chalk up the loss as "given the circumstances."
So how could a rebuilding Suns team, missing their best player in Eric Bledsoe, even hope to put up a fight against the HEAT, who on purpose put their name in all caps on their logo, website and merchandise? How could an All-Star-free Suns team deign to play as good as a team boasting 3, maybe 4, Hall of Famers?
The Suns DID put up that fight. For nearly three quarters, that is.
Will the Suns show up with their energy and scrappiness, or wilt under the pressure of playing the champs?
Miami came out with a defensive focus, bringing hard double-teams on the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, switching on ball screens to force Phoenix into difficult offensive possessions. Still, the Suns held close and even kept the game tied through late in the first quarter, when LeBron James sat down for a rest.
But both teams went to their bench, that's when Miami got some separation. Behind Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Chris Anderson, the HEAT picked up their pace and ran out to a 9-point lead (38-29) before the starters returned to the game. Archie Goodwin made rookie mistakes - airballing a three, fouling Ray Allen on a drive.
The Suns allowed themselves to be relegated to long jumpers, which missed, while Miami ran the ball right to the rim. Only Miles Plumlee's strong post defense on Miami's repeated passes into the paint held the game as close as it was.
The LeBron returned, as did the Suns' starters, and somehow the Suns scrapped their way back to a tie right before halftime on a strong effort from Markieff Morris (8 points, 7 rebounds in the second quarter alone). Former Suns player Michael Beasley had 4 points and a rebound in the second quarter.
After LeBron sized up and drained a long three at the halftime buzzer, Miami only led by 3 points.
Goran Dragic had 6 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists at the half.
The question has to be asked: at what point do the HEAT wake up and play their best ball, or do they keep sleepwalking through the game expecting an easy win?
Because certainly, the Suns are not getting the HEAT team that won the Finals last year.
Still, give the Suns credit for hanging tough, regardless of the circumstances. They don't care who they are playing (except maybe Archie Goodwin, who made a lot of rookie mistakes in that half) - they just want to scrap to win.
Miami came out strong in the third quarter behind the "Big Three" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all scoring in the first couple of minutes. Especially, Dwyane Wade. He was on fire. He made 8 of his first 11 shots in the game to help Miami keep the lead.
But the Suns wouldn't go away. They made some threes and stayed close, but missed a lot of them as well. The Suns missed several open threes that would have given them a lead, but still made enough shots to keep the game close.
Gotta give the undermanned Suns, missing their best player, a lot of credit for not caring who opponent was, and just playing the game.
The LeBron James awoke. He scored at will on one end while the Suns started missing shots, and the HEAT built a 9-point lead going into the fourth quarter. James, Wade and Bosh combined for 21 of the HEAT's 29 third quarter points.
The Suns, on the other hand, took 14 three pointers in the third quarter alone, making only 4 of them (versus making 5 of 9 inside the arc). Miami was daring the Suns to make a three, and the Suns ran cold after a while.
Will the Suns fight back once again, or will the third game in four nights on the road smack them in the face against a tough, rested Miami team?
Finally, the Suns just didn't have it. Relying on guys like Ish Smith and Archie Goodwin to fight Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen is not quite fair. This is where the Suns just don't match up at this point.
Markieff Morris had a great second quarter, but just didn't have the same impact in the second half. None of the other Suns did either.
The HEAT just were too good, and once they flexed their best play the Suns didn't have much of a chance.
The lead was up to 15 within four minutes and the Suns never got within 8 again.
Excitement occurred when Wade hard-fouled Marcus Morris on a corner three attempt. Later, as the Suns tried to inch back in the game, Morris again was fouled on a three. Each time, he made 2 of 3 free throws.
- Channing Frye had a solid game with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.
- Goran Dragic nearly had a triple double: 14 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds.
- The Morris brothers combined for another double-double with 25 total points (12 on free throws, each going 6-8) and 14 rebounds.
- As a team, the Suns made only 8 of 32 three points attempts, and shot 39.8% overall against Miami's stifling D.
- LeBron James had 35 points on 11 of 14 shooting on field goals and made all 11 free throws.
- Dwyane Wade had 21 points (9 of 13 shooting), 12 assists and 3 rebounds.
- This was the Suns first 8+ point loss.