The Phoenix Suns thrust themselves back into the playoff picture by taking care of business at home, winning 10 of 12 in the Purple Palace while playing all but two games in their building the past month.
With 7:29 left in tonight’s showdown in Miami, the Phoenix Suns seemed on the verge of taking their hot streak on the road when Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to extend Phoenix’s lead to a game-high 10 points.
But then Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout, reinserted LeBron James and Mario Chalmers back in the game and watched his team smother the Suns defensively on Miami’s way to a game ending 17-0 run that resulted in a 99-95 Heat victory.
The Suns missed 10 consecutive shots and committed three turnovers before scoring again on a Hill layup with 1:10 remaining after Phoenix went over half a quarter without putting up a single point.
Dwyane Wade punctuated the run by darting through the lane for a fancy And 1 to put the Heat up five during a period in which he led Miami with 11 points.
“When we put ourselves in a position to win a game, we can’t let it slip away,” head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “You have to give them some credit. They made the plays down the stretch. The biggest disappointment is that we did come up with stops, but they got the ball back on offensive rebounds. That can’t happen.”
Simply put, Miami ratcheted up the defensive pressure and the Suns could not handle it. The Heat, who rank fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency, can dial up a level that most NBA defenses can never reach.
Nash had no room to operate and shooters possessed no breathing room. It surely did not help that Robin Lopez missed a tip in and then two layups right at the rim, one of which should have been an easy dunk.
Phoenix’s defense did not match that intensity on the other hand and seemingly in a blink of an eye the Suns went from up double digits to behind.
“We just can’t lose that game!!” Jared Dudley tweeted. “Up 10 with 7 min to play..We played so well and held D-Wade and Bron down as best as you can..gotta move on. … Gotta put this one away, we’re playing great basketball just have to finished better on the road.”
It is always disappointing to lose, especially when you are playing as well as Phoenix has been, but I would file this one away in the encouraging loss department.
The Suns fought back from an early nine-point deficit and played James (20 points, 8-for-18) and Wade (19, 6-for-17) about as well as they can be defended, as Dudley tweeted, although they let Chris Bosh roam free for 29 on 12-for-16 shooting.
Phoenix got contributions up and down its roster, with nine players scoring at least six points and six guys tallying at least nine, led by Grant Hill’s 19.
Although the starters have been so good all year, it was the bench that put Phoenix in position to win. Led by Brown’s +10 in 20 minutes, all five Phoenix reserves were in the positives in plus/minus whereas all of the starters were in the negatives. However, that should largely be attributed to the starters playing heavy minutes against Bosh (+22), Wade (+17) and James (+15).
“They were the ones that got us a lead and put us in a position to win the game,” Gentry said. “We just needed to finish the game.”
In many ways this game shows how far Phoenix has come. Aside from the first six minutes and the final six minutes, the Suns were every bit the equal of the league’s second-best team, a squad that has now run off 14 consecutive victories on its home floor.
When the Suns faced a team this good back in January, the Chicago Bulls ran Phoenix off the floor even without star point guard Derrick Rose. During this past hot month the only other time they played a team like this they dropped a similar game with a late collapse in Oklahoma City.
Miami is the kind of team that thrives off monster runs. Once that boulder starts rolling down the hill it is impossible to stop, and the Suns just got flattened in the end.
However, most teams are beaten long before the final minutes against this Miami squad, which is now 20-2 at home and entered the day outscoring opponents by more than eight points a game.
The bottom line is the Suns are playing very well and this performance likely would’ve been good enough to win on most nights.
But when Miami pushed the turbo button down the stretch, the Suns had no counter and that was the difference in the end.
Hill said the Suns could learn a thing or two about the way Miami turned this game around.
“We need to not get discouraged,” he said. “We’re playing good basketball. We need to understand that when you’re on the road, you’re up, and you’re nursing a lead, then you have to get stops. You have to get rebounds. You have to play with a sense of desperation. They were the ones that got desperate down the stretch, and they got the win. There were a lot of good things that we did tonight. We played well enough to win. We just have to do a better job in the last five to six minutes.”
- The loss hurts a bit more because Houston rallied from a 12-point deficit with just over six minutes remaining to beat the Lakers at home behind a 16-7-13 line from Goran Dragic, who also nailed the game-winning three-pointer. If neither comeback had taken place, the Suns would be tied for the final playoff spot with Utah. As things stand, they trail the Rockets by 1 1/2 games.
- Larry Coon estimates that the Suns will have $26 million in cap space next offseason, tied with Cleveland for the most in the league. “They could afford to re-sign Nash for one more run, plus get him some high-powered help,” Coon writes.