Like LeBron in 2010, the Phoenix Suns took their talents to South Beach on Tuesday evening. It was the first game of an east coast road trip and an opportunity to extend their 6-game road winning streak and improve on their NBA best 13-5 road record.
They did just that.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul, on the first night of a back-to-back, were allowed to watch the fourth quarter from the bench. Phoenix took advantage of mismatches and dominated the Heat on Tuesday night. They are now 29-13 on the season, 14-5 on the road, and 2.0 games out of first place in the West.
Deandre Ayton beat Bam Adebayo for the tip, so you know it was going to be a DominAYTON performance, right? Well, the first play was a DA post up on Jimmy Butler which was poked away, then blocked, which lead to a shot clock violation. The Ayton vs. Bam match up is the one I was looking forward to to in this game, so I will be referencing it often.
Miami switching as expected. Ayton gets the first 2 possessions on mismatches and misses both shots.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 24, 2021
Miami is a good defensive team and you could see/feel it early in this game. Their ability to close out on shooters, rotate in switches, and hustle is apparent with every possession. How did they get to the NBA Finals last year? With grit and hustle.
No shot early in the game came easy against the Miami starting unit. Thankfully for the Suns, they have one player who has a PhD in making extremely tough shots: Devin Armani Booker. Left-footed fall aways, high arcing shots over Adebayo; his first 4 points alone personified the level of difficulty in which Booker can make shots.
The Heat continued to throw interesting looks at the Suns; Butler or Olynyk on Ayton, double teams on everyone. Every time Booker touches the ball it felt as if three Heat players were running at him. The intensity and tenacity was high during the first quarter as Phoenix faced sets they have yet to see this season.
The #3 (Suns) and #4 (Heat) defenses in the league made for a competitive and low-scoring first quarter. Suns up after 1, 25-20.
Ayton takes round one:
- Ayton: 6 points (3-6), 4 rebounds, 1 block
- Adebayo: 4 points (2-4), 1 rebound
Miami threw the full-court press wrinkle into the mix in the second quarter, doing whatever they could to rattle the Suns offensive flow. When you are a fast break, fast paced team, the full-court press disrupts what you do. Given the manner in which the Suns play, however, it allowed the Suns to get into their half court sets and execute their offense.
And it lead to some three’s, including an and-1 by Sir Langston.
LG with the and 1 from 3! pic.twitter.com/mWWhliw3LD— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) March 24, 2021
Two early fouls of Adebayo by Dario lead to the reinsertion of Ayton. Sweet. More of our DA vs. Bam matchup! This is why we watch basketball, you know? He responds with a putback dunk.
Phoenix pushed the lead to 10 points following a 7-0 run capped by a transition three-pointer by Mikal Bridges.
Kudos to the Suns defense in the first half. As hard as Miami was hustling, the Suns were doing the same. Their rotations and willingness to fight through screens created tough looks for the Heat. Phoenix forced 8 turnovers and 32.5% shooting.
Mikal even added a nice little block on former Phoenix Sun (and Knick, and King, and Laker, and Rocket, and Hornet, and Wizard, and Blazer, and Magic) Trevor Ariza:
Round 2 of the DA vs. Bam goes to Bam:
- Ayton in Q2: 4 points (2-2), 4 rebounds, 2 assists
- Adebayo in Q2: 4 points (2-2), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block
Suns lead by 15 at the break. Booker leads all scorers with 15. Crowder and DA both with 10.
It was fun watching the Marquette matchup of former teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder. Jae was creating problems for Jimmy Buckets, forcing him to take off balance shots and well-defended jumpers. Crowder must’ve felt at home in South Beach as he was getting rather cozy with the rim, shooting 3-6 from deep in this game.
The lead ballooned to 22 points following block by Ayton the lead to a fast break layup by Mikal Bridges early in the third.
This sequence was beautiful.— Zona (@AZSportsZone) March 24, 2021
Ayton block ➡️ Ridiculous Booker pass ➡️ Bridges finish pic.twitter.com/OtJFEZpeba
As the third progressed the Suns first team offense continued to push the issue. The continual screening allowed them to free up Devin Booker for shots, Ayton under the basket, and shooters on the perimeter.
It was beautiful to see what this team can look like. The fluidity and grace in which they exploited their mismatches shows why this team will be a tough draw come playoff time. Ayton’s defense showcased the potential the third-year big man possesses and is a reminder than he is continuing to grow into something special. Have patience.
Devin Booker putting Bam Adebayo in the torture chamber pic.twitter.com/VpMmtSpTVf— Andrew (@AndrewLeezus) March 24, 2021
The Heat put together a 13-3 run to end the third quarter which put them 12 points behind Phoenix. The Suns shot 47.8% in the period.
Round 3 of the DA vs. Bam goes to Ayton:
- Ayton in Q3: 3 points (1-2), 4 rebounds, 2 blocks
- Adebayo in Q3: 5 points (1-3), 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Dario Saric dropped foul #5 with 11:13 left in the game which once again meant Ayton would get big minutes. His conditioning would be tested down the stretch. Perhaps this was payback for all of the foul trouble DA was in versus the Timberwolves. I kid, I kid...
Saric gets his 5th foul so now DA has to come back a little earlier than hoped. 11 mins left Suns up 15. You really want to ice this with a game in Orlando tomorrow.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 24, 2021
Kendrick Nunn, who averages 13 points a night, caught the hot hand in the second half. His high this season was 28 against the Raptors in January; he scored 25 tonight. Nunn’s scoring kept the Heat in the game early in the fourth and, although the Suns kept Bam and Herro in check, Miami was lingering.
Jimmy Butler was noticeably absent during the fourth as the Suns had a response for any Heat run. Cameron Payne had a solid second half forcing the issue offensively while his teammates kept creating turnovers and running the opposition off of their spots.
The game ended peacefully at 7:11pm MST. Suns win and push their record to 29-13.
Round 4 of the DA vs. Bam goes to Ayton:
- Ayton in Q4: 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
- Adebayo in Q4: 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
The Florida swing continues tomorrow night against a depleted Magic squad. See you then Suns fans!