For the first time this season, the Phoenix Suns let a game get away from them.
The Miami Heat, led by a 11-point fourth quarter from LeBron James, used its usual second half push on Monday to separate from a pesky Suns team and then held off a solid push-back from Jeff Hornacek’s crew by feeding the MVP. Phoenix lost by double-digits for the first time this season by a final of 107-92 in South Beach.
With the Suns trailing 73-71 with 2:34 left in the third quarter, the Heat ran off a 15-2 run over the the final two minutes of the third and well into the fourth. Two three-pointers by Ray Allen that were part of the run were the punch to the Suns’ gut. At the same time, Phoenix reacted well after the blitz, continuing to fight and punching into the Miami lead to bring itself within nine points in the final three minutes.
Of course, James would have his moments. Whenever he made it clear he was looking to attack, he was successful despite P.J.Tucker’s best efforts. James isolated Tucker late in the fourth quarter and hit three fadeaway jumpers over Tucker, who didn’t receive double-team help but held his place on the block.
The end result was James finishing with 35 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
Phoenix was led by Channing Frye’s 16 points and 4-for-8 shooting from deep, while Goran Dragic sniffed a triple-double by finishing with 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Ryan Weisert asked the big questions to preview the matchup with the reigning champs. Here are the answers.
Can the Suns take advantage of the Heat from downtown?
The Heat play a unique defense and one that gave the Suns a lot of opportunity – but not necessarily good opportunity.
Coming into the game, Phoenix was a middle-of-the-road but impressive-for-them team beyond the three-point arc, hitting a decent 37.9 percent from deep this season. Meanwhile, the Heat were surprisingly giving up the NBA’s second-worst opponent three-point accuracy of 39.4 percent.
Blitzing on pick-and-rolls, Miami didn’t let Goran Dragic and company find open shots easily. Instead, they required the Suns to find their teammates on difficult skip-passes, which they completely fairly well. While some long passes led to turnovers – the Suns had 15 on the day – the completed ones allowed an actively-rotating Miami defense to recover enough during the passes’ flight to challenge the threes.
The result was Phoenix flinging 32 but hitting just eight, or 25 percent.
On the positive side of things, the Suns held a Miami squad that’s hitting 43.9 percent from deep to 7-of-22 shooting (31.8 percent). While the made threes were painful, it could have been worse.
How will the Suns defend the Big Three?
As expected, P.J. Tucker got the assignment on James and did a decent enough job. Aside from a few run-outs – cherry-picking, really – James was limited to 12 first-half points on just seven shots. Like he usually does, the King deferred early on and failed to look all that aggressvie until he hit a three-pointer to break a 47-all tie following a Suns second-quarter rally.
The big thing: James had four first-half turnovers. Both teams forced passes and likewise saw the opposing active defense jump passing lanes to get into the open court. And yeah, despite the relative success in the first half, James went at Tucker with success late in the game.
What could Tucker do? Not much else.
Wade had the most success against Phoenix in the first half, scoring 13 points by blowing by Suns defenders and taking advantage at the rim against slow rotations from the weakside.
Bosh got into foul trouble early. He picked up a very early charge by passing up his shot – a 20-footer – and trying to drive only to find Tucker waiting in the paint for him. Miami struggled to contain pick-and-rolls against Miles Plumlee, but the foul trouble may have been a blessing for the Heat, which got a solid boost off the bench from Chris “Birdman” Andersen.
Birdman got going rolling to the hoop as the Suns bench was thoroughly outplayed, especially by failing to play the pick-and-roll defense in timely fashion. Miami led by as many as nine in the first half before the Suns’ starting unit came back to stabilize things and tie the game at 47 before James’ three-pointer just before the break.
Will the Suns miss Michael Beasley?
Other than the Morris twins, probably not.
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) November 26, 2013
Beasley finished with eight points and six boards. Meanwhile, his buddies, the Morris twins, combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds to lead the bench unit that struggled especially on the defensive side of things – and in both halves.