In January, Miami took it to Phoenix at the Footprint Center, winning 123-100. When the two teams met again on March 9, the Suns played like a team looking for revenge, winning 111-90 behind a balanced effort.
Games against Miami don’t quite feel like games against Milwaukee, but I think that’s more because Milwaukee is so different from Phoenix in style, where Miami is a bit more similar stylistically. But you can really feel the “#1 vs #1” heavyweight aspect of this matchup.
Duncan Robinson is a nightmare to defend, and he started off ablaze in this one, 3-3 from deep in the first three and a half minutes. Miami’s first two-point bucket didn’t come until around the 8:00 mark, which was also the time that Devin Booker got his first bucket since returning from health and safety protocols, a three-pointer.
Miami went up 20-10 at the 7:33 mark, and Kyle Lowry was the biggest reason why. It’s easy to tell how valuable a floor general like him can be for a contending team, and how big of a difference he’ll make for them come playoff time as well, having already won a championship in Toronto. At that point, Lowry had already totaled 3 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists.
ESPN reporter Jorge Sedano mentioned at this point that Deandre Ayton was vocal in the huddle, calling for Phoenix to defend with the same energy that Miami was playing with, a very fun narrative to follow. Shortly thereafter, Bam Adebayo got by Ayton for a dunk. At the quarter break, head coach Monty Williams told Sedano that a lot of that energy was keyed in getting back in defensive transition.
After falling behind by 11, Ayton’s calls were answered, and Suns put forth a 9-0 run, thanks in part to Mikal Bridges in transition, and Ayton doing dirty work; a screen assist for a three then a put-back to pull within 2 and force a Miami timeout. He’s at 9 points and 2 rebounds at this point.
Not quite a swim move but when Ayton is attacking glass in this fashion, it's usually a "watch out" pic.twitter.com/oLxLwgnRCO— David (@theIVpointplay) March 10, 2022
The run would extend to 13-0 and the first Phoenix lead of the game before Tyler Herro ended the run on a very Booker-like floater. This would end up being Miami’s only points of the back half of the quarter after their hot start, reaching 25 at the 6:06 mark.
Suns led 29-27 after the first frame. Ayton’s 9 and Robinson’s 12 were the leading scorers.
Early in the second, both team’s second units brought a lot of energy and physicality, but Cam Johnson’s absence was felt as Herro started to shine. Suns just had a tough time bringing enough offense to the table to properly battle Miami’s incessant defense. A lot of that incessant defense stemmed from DeWayne Dedmon’s stout rim protection:
sigh pic.twitter.com/nCaPLLnysa— damon allred (@iamdamonallred) March 10, 2022
Phoenix would continue to have a tough time keeping up in the second, and understandably so when you’re matching Robinson threes and Herro drives with Crowder attacking closeouts and offensive fouls (he reached his third foul before the 4:00 mark).
The two teams traded free throw opportunities at the end of the half; Booker fouled on a three, Bridges and-one, and an Adebayo and-one before Herro missed a layup to end the half.
Ayton was the biggest difference maker for me in the first 24. Whenever he was most active, things went well for Phoenix. With 15 points on 8 shots in 16 minutes, he’s a big reason why the Suns led at the break 57-55. Bridges also put together a great half at 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and one block in his 18 minutes.
As the third quarter started to unfold, the Suns started to take control of the game, with four different starters (Bridges, Ayton, Booker, Payne) reaching double figures by the 8:51 3Q mark, where Phoenix had a nice 69-58 lead. Booker even threw in some more evidence that he’s an above average defender in this league now:
as if the general public needed any more evidence that book has arrived as a defender pic.twitter.com/zcfSix5XbX— damon allred (@iamdamonallred) March 10, 2022
Miami is not a team that will lay down, take a loss, and go gently into the night, so Adebayo, Lowry and even Gabe Vincent were all making plays to try and keep the Heat within striking distance.
After just two rebounds in the first half, Ayton grabbed 5 in the 7:30 that he played in the third quarter alone. He looked like a man among boys for a lot of his stint. He was relieved by JaVale McGee, who after a sloppy first half, added 5 points and a few boards, helping Phoenix to a 17-point lead with 3:16 left in the third.
After some weirdness toward the end of the quarter, Booker took Herro off the dribble and hit a three in his face to end the frame, getting the Suns back up to that 17-point lead. By that point, Booker had joined Ayton and Bridges in the 17-point club, with the three of them combining for 53 points.
Book closing out the quarter in style. pic.twitter.com/NSd8cWa3vu— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 10, 2022
Suns came out in the fourth quarter aggressive, looking to step on Miami’s throat and end things; Shamet hit a three, Payne defended a Herro pick-and-roll very well, and McGee hit a Dirk-like fadeaway to extend the lead to 20 at 96-76, where the score would stay for a while with neither team able to get buckets.
After they made sure Miami was down and out, the Suns starters were relieved at the 2:34 mark up 109-84 shortly after Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout in response to Crowder’s first made three of the night, getting him to double figures as well.
- Bridges, Ayton, and Booker combined for 63; the other starters, Payne and Crowder, added another 11 each for a total of 85 points from the starters.
- Booker had such an elite all-around night in his return, totaling 23 points (on 12 shots), 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in 33 minutes.
- Ayton (19 & 10 on 10 shots) arguably outplayed Miami’s All-Star center Adebayo (17/6/5 on 11 shots).
- After Coach Williams and Ayton were both outspoken throughout the week about rebounding deficiencies, Suns won the rebounding battle 55-38 tonight.
- The much-maligned and shorthanded Suns second unit (26 points) held their own against a strong Miami second unit (32 points).
We'll never live in this world but the Suns have been so good this season they should almost be slander proof.— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 10, 2022
Suns, now 53-13, return home from their East Coast road trip to prepare for Friday’s game when they host the Toronto Raptors, who entered the night 34-30.