EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns leave Miami with another statement win at end of road trip

Mar 9, 2022, 9:26 PM | Updated: Mar 10, 2022, 10:12 am

The Suns hate spending more than a game away from home and then flying back to Phoenix off a loss. It is something they use as an extra bit of motivation, and the results speak for themselves in terms of how much it shows.

They haven’t done that since the third game of the season, a 134-105 dud in Portland against the Trail Blazers.

Since then, they are now 7-0 in the last game of a road trip lasting longer than a game, including Wednesday’s 111-90 victory over the Miami Heat.

“We started saying it my first year in Phoenix,” Williams said of a mantra players often use of turning a good trip into a great trip. “We talked about when you end up with a good record on your trip and you win that last game, we always say the food tastes better, the flight’s a bit shorter and we just want to end it on a good note.”

It was the second game of a back-to-back and third game in four days. The return trip to Phoenix will finish forming a big ol’ triangle across the United States that started with going to Milwaukee on Saturday. Like the Suns’ wins in Brooklyn and Philadelphia earlier in the year, two games that were also second games of back-to-backs at the end of road trips, it would have been easy enough to chalk it up as a schedule loss.

And yet, ending the journey on a high note and avenging a Jan. 8 loss at home to the Heat in which Miami shot ’em out of their own gym was the gasoline to a fire that blazed an effort head coach Monty Williams described as one of the best defensive performances he’s ever seen.

“We wanted this one bad to be completely honest,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “We have a lot of respect for their team, especially for what they did to us in Phoenix. … We just wanted to prove a point. They’re playing the best basketball over here in the East and we’re doing the same in the West so it was a heavyweight matchup.”

Miami started the game off with 25 points in less than six minutes before scoring only two for the rest of the first quarter. Yep. Two whole points.

“We just stayed the course,” Williams said of the hot start for Miami. “The ability to regroup without losing your confidence is something that we’ve learned over time.”

Williams cited some uncharacteristic mistakes defending shooters and players leaking out in transition, mistakes that were immediately cleaned up.

Phoenix grinded through the rest of the first half to lead by two at halftime, matching a first punch and level of physicality from the Heat that would have knocked out the majority of NBA teams in the Suns’ position.

The Suns came out of halftime putting their intensity into overdrive, the section of the third quarter in which that aforementioned incredible defense really took center stage. A 16-7 surge blitzed the Heat, making them fully aware of what it was going to take to win the basketball game they now trailed by 12 in. It really affected the way Miami played the rest of the game, even when the Suns’ defense wasn’t in picture-perfect position.

Phoenix extended its lead to 17 through three quarters before it quickly got out of hand in the final frame.

Booker returned after a four-game absence due to the league’s health and safety protocols, flying to Miami on Tuesday. The 25-year-old said he had an asymptomatic stint with COVID-19 and he looked the part, as he still fully had his legs under him.

Booker contributed 23 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks on 7-of-12 shooting in 33 minutes, registering a game-high +31. He was the tone-setter defensively, where his fellow starters matched him and outdid the Heat at their own game.

Williams said there’s “swag” Booker brings to the team that had a different type of energy around the team in the morning, and then on the court that night, his team had “a level of calm because Book was out there.”

Mikal Bridges scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton added 19.

Ayton had 10 rebounds while his counterpart off the bench JaVale McGee ripped down 15, including seven on the offensive glass. Miami center Bam Adebayo is a willing switcher in the Heat’s defensive scheme and that allows for the Suns’ centers to get in a mismatch on the glass to get to work. With the level of energy the Suns were deploying as a team, that was a successful effort more often than not, a great gameplan from Williams.

Cam Payne had 10 assists to go with his 11 points, making it 54 total assists for Payne in the five games he has started in place of Chris Paul (right thumb avulsion fracture) since returning from his own sprained right wrist.

Miami was without Jimmy Butler (sinus/congestion) while Cam Johnson (right quad contusion) remains out for Phoenix.

The victory made the Suns the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth.

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