The Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat engaged in what can only be described as a chippy affair Monday night in South Florida.
The Heat won 115-98 in a game that featured 58 fouls, 68 free throw attempts, two flagrant fouls and three ejections.
Following the game, Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek voiced his displeasure with the compete level of his team, mostly on loose balls in the first half.
“We’ve got to find who on this team is going to be tough in terms of going after balls,” he said. “We’re soft going after everything. They just take the ball out of our hands and maybe they grab the arm, but you’ve got to be tougher than that.
“When teams get physical, we look like a high school team in terms of our competitiveness and the way we battle against some of these teams.”
It’s been a common theme, as has losing. The Suns have dropped two in a row, and nine of their last 12 games.
Hornacek joined Doug and Wolf Tuesday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM and reiterated his desire to have players go all-out for the entirety of a contest.
“I think they probably think they’re playing hard, but for us, it’s trying to do it for 48 minutes,” he said. “I thought in the first half, balls were right there and we don’t go after it. The third quarter, that was a different story. Now the guys were playing like they were supposed to play, they’re after it and they’re intense and they’re trying to block guys out.
“We’ve got to do that from the start of the game.”
The second quarter was especially ugly for the Suns Monday night. Miami outscored Phoenix 39-24 and outrebounded them 14-8.
Forward Markieff Morris was ejected in the third quarter for what was ruled a Flagrant 2 foul on Miami’s Goran Dragic. Replays showed Morris attempted to block a shot on a layup attempt, but came across Dragic’s body, knocking him down on the baseline.
About five minutes later, Miami center Hassan Whiteside dunked on Phoenix’s Alex Len and came down on top of the second-year player — for the second time in the game. Len pushed Whiteside, who then tackled Len. There was some pushing, but no punches were thrown. Both players were ejected.
“To me, those are just normal basketball plays. I don’t think it was any big deal,” Hornacek said. “Markieff goes to block a shot and Goran puts his right arm up a lot. He tried to block it and he kind of caught him across the neck, but it wasn’t that bad. Guys fall down and act like they got killed and the refs feed into that.
“That’s the way the league wants it officiated, but what are you supposed to do? I asked the ref afterward, ‘what are you supposed to do, let him lay it in?'”
Hornacek also didn’t see any fault in his center’s actions that led to an ejection.
“Heck, the guy landed down on top of him and he just kind of threw him off a little bit and they got wrapped up and (Whiteside) tackled his legs,” he said. “If anything, it should have been Whiteside getting thrown out. The guy landed on top of him, Alex was just getting him off of him.”
While the Suns did show their coach something with increased effort in the second half, consistency in that area is what everyone is seeking.
“It’s tough because the game is different, but we’ve got to find that balance between being tough and hitting guys,” Hornacek said. “I just feel we get pushed around too much.”
The Suns continue their road trip Wednesday night in Orlando against the Magic. The game tips off at 5:00 p.m. Phoenix time and can be heard on ESPN Phoenix 620 AM.