PHOENIX – Suns coach Jeff Hornacek called out the obvious. His Phoenix Suns weren’t going to beat the two-time champion Miami Heat for the first time in the Big Three era if his team turned the ball over.
But at key points throughout and especially in the final few minutes, Phoenix did just that.
Despite employing intentional fouls to keep LeBron James and company out of transition, the Suns made too many big mistakes late, falling 103-97 to the Heat in U.S. Airways Center on Tuesday. They turned the ball over 16 times leading to 24 points, and two of those times came at crucial points in the fourth quarter.
James scored 11 of the Heat’s final 14 and he set up Chris Bosh for a dagger three-pointer that made up the other three points.
In the fourth, James took over, scoring 14 points as Miami went 8-for-13 from the field. Most importantly, Miami got to the foul stripe 14 times, many of those opportunities coming off transition fouls.
Phoenix started the game on a 12-0 run and held a 25-15 advantage with three minutes left in the first quarter. A massive scoring drought followed, allowing Miami to score 10 straight before a fastbreak layup by Ish Smith and a layup by Leandro Barbosa in transition the next time down broke the cold spell.
Phoenix held Miami to 38 percent shooting and 1-for-11 from three-point range through two quarters, using crisp rotations and effort in recovering to take advantage of a team without Dwyane Wade — he suffered from a migraine all day long — and playing with a passive James.
But as it always is with James, the King wouldn’t remain silent for the whole game. After scoring 12 points in the first half, it took less than a minute in the first half for him to draw a switch and drill a three-pointer over Miles Plumlee.
Miami went on an 11-0 run to take a 62-55 lead halfway through the third period. While the Heat looked re-energized on offense to start the third while the Suns appeared flat-footed, that changed midway through the quarter. The Heat gave up four three-pointers in the period and allowed the Suns to connect on 12-of-19 of their total field goals. P.J. Tucker found Markieff Morris for a slam before the third-quarter ended on a tricky behind-the-back pass to give Phoenix a 74-71 lead heading to the fourth before falling despite showing some fight.
Can the Suns outrun the Heat?
Phoenix picked its spots and did well turning the Heat over early on. That was about the extent of their offensive success, as neither team shot better than 40 percent in the first half. But in holding Miami to 38 percent shooting in the first half, the Suns put themselves in solid positions to succeed.
Although the Suns didn’t turn the ball over at a wild rate, the ones they did turn over were mighty painful. Hornacek seemed to employ a European fouling strategy, wrapping up Heat players any time they seemed to be on the fastbreak when James was on the court.
In the end, Miami’s points from those plays alone were the difference in the final score. The Suns finished with 21 fastbreak points but gave up 20 to the Heat.
Will Phoenix attempt more free throws than threes?
Not even close, and the lack of foul shots reflected how much the Suns got on the perimeter. The majority of their scoring in the paint was done on fastbreaks, but the perimeter shooting came with fluid offense and, for the most part, success.
Phoenix hit 12-of-28 from deep but got to the foul stripe just 17 times.
Can Phoenix’s team defense limit Miami to just one big night?
It was easy to say that when Dwyane Wade was scratched because of a migraine headache. James did his thing, finishing with 37 points, five steals and nine rebounds. Chris Bosh had an efficient night playing off the King. He went 8-of-11 to score 21 points, including the dagger.
Toney Douglas, Wade’s replacement, struggled quite a bit. Ray Allen didn’t get into a deep groove off the bench and added 10. Despite the Suns’ Morris twins struggling, Miami wasn’t able to capitalize against Phoenix’s bench, but the Suns’ mistakes did them in.