The Suns did just about everything they wanted to do offensively Wednesday night in Miami.
They hit 55.8 percent of their shots, a season-high 14 triples at a 50 percent clip, every starter reached double figures and four scored at least 19, the Suns ran, they got easy buckets from Shaq, the ball movement was crisp, and yet they could never get over the hump in the second half of a 135-129 loss to the Heat.
Predictably, no such high praise is available for a defense that got lit up for the second-highest point total in Heat history while yielding 57.1 percent shooting from the field and 56.5 shooting from three.
Dwyane Wade followed up his 43-point performance earlier in the year in Phoenix with 35 points and more importantly a career-high-tying 16 assists.
Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook were the beneficiaries of many of those Wade passes, as they both set career highs off the bench and ultimately made the difference in this ballgame.
“We have to be a little bit better defensively,” head coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com in the understatement of the year. “We can survive Dwyane Wade having 40 or even 50, but we can’t survive Beasley 28 and Daequan Cook having 27 and another guy having 15 and things like that.
“We just never really got Wade contained at all, and he started off with so many dribble penetrations and things like that, that we were forced to go to a zone and were much better on him in the zone, but of course when you do that, you open up all the avenues, and I thought that Cook and Beasley took advantage of that.”
The Heat got the best of both worlds, as Wade was both a devastating scorer and a potent facilitator, and when he’s doing both things you might as well go home.
This was such a frustrating game because the Suns shot a scorching 79 percent in the second quarter and continued their torrid shooting night in the second half but could never get over the hump.
The lead fluctuated between three and seven points for the majority of the second half, but every time the Suns would make a run the Heat would answer with a Wade drive, a Cook three or a Beasley bucket, and most of the half was spent with each club answering the other at the opposite end.
Lovers of offensive basketball were in luck tonight, but not even the Seven Seconds or Shaq Suns can win a game in which they give up 135 (well, maybe if they’re playing the Clippers).
As noted last night, the Suns had averaged 104.3 points per game in their three losses under Gentry entering this one, their first loss of the Gentry Era while playing a stellar offensive game.
Their offense was flowing well enough that just stringing together two or three stops would have pushed them over the edge, but somehow for an entire half they failed to even do that.
“It is the story of our season,” Shaq told Suns.com. “We let another game slip away.”
There’s no shortage of praise to dish out on the offensive end, with only LB (3-for-10) and to a lesser extent Grant Hill (5-for-13) really struggling.
Steve Nash put up 29 and 10 on 12-for-17 shooting, Shaq 22 and eight, J-Rich 22 and Barnes 19 off five threes.
Also, Jared Dudley swished a pair of threes on his way to eight points in 16 solid minutes and look for him to continue to play a part in Gentry’s rotation.
Before the game, Gentry decided to go with more of a traditional starting lineup with Barnes replacing LB to play the four so that Hill could go back to his natural small forward position and J-Rich the two.
Barnes ended up playing a game-high 40 minutes, his highest total of the season aside from the two Lakers games in which the Suns were shorthanded. LB, meanwhile, played 30, which is much more than Terry Porter was playing him but also his lowest total since Amare went down.
I’ve thought all along that Barnes should replace Amare at the four being that it gives the Suns their best chance to match up defensively night in and night out (not that it mattered on this night), and Barnes is a perfect four in Gentry’s helter-skelter system.
Plus, Barnes has played better as a starter this season, and LB doesn’t have a Sixth Man of the Year trophy on his mantle for nothing; he can thrive off the bench even if he struggled a bit in this one. I love the energy and scoring punch he provides the second unit with.
But it won’t matter who starts when the Suns allow their opponents to score almost 40 points more than their season average like the Heat nearly did tonight.
The Diesel returns
Shaq played his first game in Miami since being dealt to the desert last year and received a mixed reaction.
Heat fans cheered the man who helped their franchise win its only championship during introductions, while the PA announcer proclaimed that that Heat wanted to “welcome back No. 32 Shaquille O’Neal,” but he drew some boos later in the game.
“Me coming back here is just like another game,” Shaq told Suns.com. “I’ve been in this situation before where it was kind of hostile, but there is no hostility here. It is great to come back. It was a respectful reception. I had great times here. It was fun here. I won a championship here. I have a lot of friends that still live here.”
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