Suns’ resiliency not enough to stop Heat as Butler, Dragic unload in loss
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns were due for a night when things wouldn’t click. The offense was sluggish, the defense was a step off, open shots weren’t falling, the ball movement wasn’t as crisp, etc.
It looked like that was happening on Saturday in the Memphis win, but the Suns responded with a strong second half, controlling the game with only 15 assists and five turnovers over the last 24 minutes.
Even after Phoenix put up a fight against the Miami Heat on Thursday, there was too much “just one of those nights” types of things going on in a 124-108 loss.
“They’re fine,” head coach Monty Williams said with a laugh of how the players were in the locker room. “This is not new for me. I’ve said this before tonight, it’s seven games — it’s (now) eight. This is a chance for us to grow and respond and I believe our guys will.
“This is to be expected. You’re gonna have games like this and you have to respond and that’s where character and integrity should come to the forefront.”
Phoenix (5-3) was poor in several categories where they’ve shined. They had a season-low 22 assists, gave up 22 points off turnovers and made only 11 three-pointers.
On the other end, Miami (6-2) feasted, shooting 55% from the field and 15-of-28 (54%) from deep.
“There just wasn’t a great disposition to stop the ball initially and they just kept playing downhill,” Williams said.
“They shot the ball well the entire game and played harder than us so it’s tough to beat a team like that,” Devin Booker said.
Despite a score and box score that will suggest otherwise, it is important to establish that there were multiple times where the Suns could have died in this game early and they hung around to keep it within striking distance.
Like the win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday when Tobias Harris and Al Horford looked comfortable getting to their spots offensively, the same could be said for Miami’s Jimmy Butler and Kendrick Nunn early, an alarming trend.
They cooked early in the Suns’ worst start to a game yet, leading to a 22-10 deficit. That was followed by an 11-0 Suns run to get them within one.
Even after that spurt, Butler’s comfort level still resembled someone leaning back in a recliner on football Sunday, and that was with Kelly Oubre Jr. doing a fairly decent job defending him one-on-one.
Butler scored 30 of his 34 points in the first half, making some true superstar plays by drilling challenging jumpers off the bounce.
The Suns at one point had six assists on 17 made field goals in the first half, and after being down 10 again in the mid-second quarter, they got it back down to two four minutes later in a 15-7 spurt.
As Dario Saric saw a three-pointer go in-and-out and Aron Baynes missed a dunk in the third quarter, the basketball gods appeared to be sending a message that this wasn’t going to work out. Down 12 in the mid-third quarter, again the Suns clawed back, though, this time a 10-0 run to bring it back to two.
And that is where Goran Dragic entered and absolutely murdered any life the game had left for Phoenix.
The former Sun scored 10 points in the last 2:06 of the third quarter to put Miami up seven through 36 minutes. That was just before a stretch where the Suns clamped down the Heat offense that looked the worst it had been all night.
Two more deep balls by Dragic to start the fourth made it 16 points in a stretch that went under four minutes and yanked the game away from the Suns once more at another 10-point deficit. Dragic finished with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists.
There was no fight back left from Phoenix after that and the Heat did as all very good teams do by putting on the afterburners and blowing the Suns to dust in the fourth quarter with 31 points to round out a very even and impressive offensive performance.
“Just never got over the hump,” Booker said of the runs. “Credit to them.”
“It’s easy for me to sit here and say ‘we didn’t do this, we didn’t …’ They played well,” Williams said. “And you have to accept that. They kicked our butt. Plain and simple.”
For the Suns offensively, this is the danger in not playing Williams’ system with swiftness and precision. If the movement isn’t flowing and players are hesitating, that will reflect in the shooting numbers like it did.
“Not good. Not good at all,” Williams said of the ball movement. “It should be a lesson to us.
“When the ball doesn’t move against a team like that … I just didn’t feel like we had the discipline it takes when shots may not be falling.”
Without the suspended Deandre Ayton as the No. 2 scoring option behind Booker, an even more legitimate threat they can use with the assistance of Ricky Rubio, they are not going to be able to hang around in shootouts if they aren’t at least good from three-point range, and that’s not 34%.
Aron Baynes had 23 points, Booker was eliminated from the game by Miami’s gameplan and still managed 22 while Oubre added 15.
But there was no other major contribution elsewhere, so when the other guys score 124, that’s not going to cut it.
Frank Kaminsky took two shots in 17 minutes, hesitating for the second straight game to take mildly contested jumpers. Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges were a combined 4-of-13 and Saric shot 2-for-7 from deep.
This game showed what can go wrong for the Suns and how they can lose. That doesn’t mean they are panicking, and they certainly have the right head coach in place to do some problem solving after a night with several issues like Thursday.
“It’s a long season so we gotta watch film tomorrow and have a really good practice on Saturday and get ready again,” Williams said.
“I cannot wait. As a coach, when you have good guys like we have, you can’t wait to get in the gym and teach. With all the noise that’s been going around, I don’t want to lose, but you’ve got to make the most of these opportunities and I think our guys are looking forward to tomorrow.”