The Suns starters came out a bit flat in the first quarter and the second unit got roasted by Miami’s bench on the way to a 16-point loss — the first game all season the Suns lost by more than one point, and the first time they were down double-digits since a 15-second stretch in game one.
“We started the game bad,” forward Dario Saric said. “We were a bit sleepy.”
Indeed, the Suns starters found themselves down 18-6 at the 7:22 mark before recovering to 31-30 at the end of one. Then the bench gave up a 12-2 run to start the second quarter, after which the Suns fought back to a 57-57 tie before allowing a Jimmy Butler personal 7-0 run over the final 1:40 to go into halftime.
And then after recovering to 88-86 late in the third quarter with another chance to tie on a fast break, the Heat’s James Johnson stuffed consecutive Suns shot attempts while backup guard Goran Dragic led the Heat on a 21-7 run to blow the game open to 109-93. Dragic had 13 of Miami’s 21 points in that stretch, punctuating his big threes with even bigger swag.
“We just didn’t have it tonight and that happens,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
In the first seven games, the Suns were down 10-plus points only once and for a grand total of 15 seconds — in the first half of game one to Sacramento, before winning by 29. They hadn’t been down double digits since.
On Thursday, the Suns were down 10-plus points for 20:26, including the final 9:55 of the game.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” Saric said. “Sometimes other team’s guys just make the right plays and the other side, maybe you lost a couple balls in crucial moments that cost us the game.”
This is a Miami team that plays a lot like the Suns do, trying to win on defense and activity more than sublime scoring. So when they do score big, they cam romp. Just four days ago, they blew out the Rockets in a similar way that the Suns blew out Golden State, getting up by 30+ in the first quarter on Houston before cruising to victory.
“We did show some resilience,” center Aron Baynes said of the comebacks. “For the most part, our competitiveness was not at the level we need it to be at. We were able to make runs but we weren’t able to get over that hump. They just came down and made more plays tonight.”
Three times, the Suns tried to claw back into the game but couldn’t get over the hump. They earned the Heat’s respect along the way.
“That’s a quality team,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “Really well-coached and, look, both teams look totally different from last year. This was good for both franchises and it’ll be interesting watching them and I’m sure the same for us.”
The Suns players were not down after the game. They knew exactly what went wrong and how to fix their mistakes, and they tipped their caps to Miami’s big shot-making.
“I think we all realize we are a good team,” Saric said. “From the beginning of training camp we figured that out. But for you guys, maybe other people, it was surprising our start. I think coach Monty was on point with everything. Just today, the NBA is, like, competitive. Sometimes it’s hard to do it like that.”
Coach Monty Williams appeared energized, excited, even, to get back into practice and show the guys what went wrong.
“I can’t wait!” he exclaimed. “This is a chance for us to grow and respond, and I believe our guys will. But this is to be expected, you’re going to have games like this and you have to respond, and that is where character and integrity should come to the forefront.”
The players agree.
“He always says, ‘You can’t get happy on the farm,’ ” said guard Devin Booker afterward. “I think we have had a good start. A lot of ups and downs, a lot of adversity we have faced and overcome. I don’t see anything different here.”
Booker has experienced a LOT of adversity over his four-plus years in Phoenix, and just now is able to enjoy more wins than losses in a season while also getting national respect for the Suns hot start.
The loss to Miami breaks a three-game losing streak, but Booker’s team still has a 5-3 record and four games to go on this season-long home stand.
“It is not going to be how it was the past few games, all season,” Booker said. “It is going to be a long season. There is going to be a lot of highs and lows. How we stick together through that will determine our team’s success.”
By the end of the game, despite the 16-point difference on the scoreboard, the Suns and Heat mirrored each other as expected. They had basically the same rebounds, assists and turnovers. The big difference was the shooting — the Heat shot 55 percent overall to the Suns’ 44 percent. Individually, Jimmy Butler (9-10 FG, 10-10 FTs for 30 points) couldn’t miss in the first half and Goran Dragic couldn’t miss in the second half (20 of his 25 points over a 5.5 minutes stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters).
“I just feel like we didn’t have the discipline that it takes to win when shots may not be falling,” coach Williams said. “We’ll come back tomorrow and watch the film. We have to be ready to accept a lot of the things that happened tonight.”
“We have a good team coming in for the next game,” Aron Baynes said of the Nets. “We have to get prepared and get ready for them. They have a hell of a head of a snake coming in at us. It is going to be crucial that we go out there and we really lock in on our defense and stick to the game plan for the full 48.”