EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns find crisp execution, get by Heat for another home win

Jan 5, 2024, 11:06 PM

PHOENIX — A 113-97 Friday night win over the Miami Heat for the Phoenix Suns proved they are still capable of unloading tons of firepower, even shorthanded.

Grayson Allen tied the franchise record of nine 3-pointers to set a new career best and scored a game-high 31 points. Devin Booker provided his seventh double-double of the season via 20 points and 10 assists while Bradley Beal continues to round into form.

Beal had his best game as a Sun thus far, shooting 11-of-18 from the field for 25 points to go along with eight rebounds and nine assists.

The trio really capitalized on what Miami (20-15) was trying to achieve defensively. At first glance this game might not look like the Suns’ cleanest win of the season, but their execution was very crisp, most notably on offense. It was a comfortable evening for Phoenix’s (19-16) main players, with Beal going +27 on the night.

“The trust, the trust in trying to get the right guys the right shots,” Suns head coach Frank Vogel said, noting Allen’s 14 attempts from deep. “More shots for our laser 3-point shooters.”

Allen knew coming into the night Miami is a great team with defensive schemes, crowding ball-handlers and recovering late, which can be highlighted by the 19 combined assists for Beal and Booker. Once Allen got two to go down early, he was ready for whatever was coming after that.

“From that point it’s kind of are they going to adjust and get out of their gaps and let Brad, Book drive and get to the paint or are they going to keep trying to show and get out for late contests,” Allen said. “They mix it up, they did a little bit of both but I was still able to get some of those one-pass-away shots and take advantage of that.”

The one-pass-away part of that is a crucial element of the Suns’ spacing, one they are already good at and showed how on Friday, even without their full arsenal of shooting.

A fun first half of basketball saw the Suns lead by seven, one in which both teams executed well offensively to set up quality shots. Coming out of halftime, Phoenix continued that and racked up a few stops to get on the move in transition. That plus a few excellent 1-on-1 buckets from Booker and Beal suddenly put the Suns up 18.

From there, Miami wasn’t able to knock down enough looks to race back. It didn’t appear to be the cleanest bit of defensive work from the Suns at times and the Heat didn’t make them pay enough, shooting 10-for-37 (27%) from 3 and never mounting much of a comeback the rest of the way. Miami’s 26 assists on 34 field goals is a testament to how well it was moving the ball, and on another night, would have won this game.

But to go back to the defense, head coach Frank Vogel shared postgame a lot of that was by design. Phoenix has been emphasizing protecting the paint and improving on that over the last couple of weeks. It held Miami to 36 points in the paint, and items like containment, gap recognition and commitment from the low man were great on the Suns’ end of things.

“Defensively, probably our best gameplan execution of the year,” Vogel said.

The Suns did well to deny some tendencies from Heat players, such as chasing Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson off the 3-point line while still accounting for Bam Adebayo on the roll.

“I don’t want to understate how excited I am holding that team under 100 points,” Vogel said.

A handful of Heat possessions ended in what looked like a breakdown to an open outside shooter but it was a largely connected interior defensive performance.

“It was really good, man. Probably our best defensive game we’ve had honestly all year in terms of following the gameplan and doing it for 48 minutes,” Beal said, a guy who has been honest about the team’s shortcomings defensively. “Did a really good job on our schemes tonight.”

Phoenix was without Kevin Durant (right hamstring strain), Eric Gordon (right knee soreness) and Nassir Little (left knee soreness) while Miami’s absences of Jimmy Butler (foot), Haywood Highsmith (concussion protocol) and Caleb Martin (right ankle sprain) were the ones that felt more pronounced. The Suns didn’t have much of a chance handling Adebayo, who produced 28 points and 10 rebounds, but no one else on Miami reached above 10 points besides Kevin Love’s 20 off the bench.

Josh Okogie had a much-needed great night, putting together 24 minutes we’ve come to know from him. He was 7-of-8 from the foul line for all of his points and also tallied up two rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. The Suns’ good night defensively included forcing turnovers, which resulted in 19 of their points off the 16 Heat turnovers. Miami is keen on getting the ball to the post when the matchups warrant it, an approach Phoenix was ready for and showed great effort in denying.

There was a trio of injury-related moments in the game for Phoenix.

Bol Bol, who has been terrific with his energy in a new rotation role this week, sprained his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return. X-rays were negative.

Jusuf Nurkic took a shot to the face in the fourth quarter and immediately went to the locker room after, also not coming back into the game. Vogel said it was not a concussion situation.

Beal had a scary moment in the final frame as well, at least on the outside looking in, when he misstepped on a turnover and limped back to the huddle after while staying in the game. After the game, though, he said he was OK and he just stepped weird. Beal wasn’t scared he hurt something and confirmed it was one of those movements where a spryer version of himself 10 years ago wouldn’t have had much of an issue with.

Without that aforementioned Suns trio, it freed up some minutes for Yuta Watanabe to make his first rotation appearance in weeks. In addition, Drew Eubanks was slotted in as the backup 5 over two-way signing Udoka Azubuike, giving Eubanks another crack at the spot he initially held at the start of the season. Those are two players who were much, much better last year on other teams than they have been so far this season in Phoenix. Watanabe didn’t have much to do in nine minutes while Eubanks recovered from a shaky first half to make plays in the second.

Phoenix is now 4-1 on its six-game homestand.

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