After a weeklong hiatus, defense returned to AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday night. The result was electrifying.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra demanded a better defensive effort from his team after two lackluster and lazy performances in back to back games against the Knicks and Nuggets.
The Heat’s players delivered, defeating the Phoenix Suns 124-99 in the second game of a three-game homestand. For the Suns, it was the second night of a difficult Florida back-to-back. The Suns were routed in Orlando the previous night.
Dating back to last season’s playoffs, the Heat has won seven games in a row on its home court. This one, the 25th anniversary of the very first game for the franchise, was over early.
The Heat used a 15-2 run in the first quarter to build a 30-16 lead. From there, the Heat’s defense just tightened the screws on the Suns, playing without point guard Steve Nash this season for the first time since 2004. Nash is now with the Lakers.
The Heat held the Suns to under 40 percent shooting from the field and, more importantly, outrebounded Phoenix 49-38.
“It was good to see two numbers, the sub-40 field-goal percentage and the rebounding numbers,” Spoelstra said. “Everything else is just a cherry on the top.”
The Nuggets badly outrebounded the Heat on Saturday, and Spoelstra made the hustle statistics a point of concern on the team’s off day. Denver scored 70 points in the paint against the Heat.
On Monday, the Suns managed just 34 points in the paint.
The Heat had 33 assists, a healthy number led by Mario Chalmers’ 11, and the Big 3 of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade combined for 63 points.
The Heat shot 54.7 percent from the floor and an amazing 57.7 percent (15 of 26) from three-point range. Eight different players had three-pointers.
“When we play defense, we can do whatever we want offensively,” James said. “The sky is the limit but we understand that defense is our staple and just go from this morning when we were talking about to tonight. We make changes on the fly and right now. We’re not a team to continue to let stuff happen.”
James led the Heat with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He was 2 of 3 from three-point range and had 11 rebounds. Wade had 22 points and was 9 of 14 from the field. He and James both showed a determination that was lacking in games against New York and Denver.
“The main thing is just own it,” Spoelstra said. “This isn’t necessarily behind us. This was one game and kind of caught Phoenix on the right night.”
Bosh continued his red-hot ways, scoring 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting. He was 4 of 4 from the free-throw line and had four rebounds. All his points came in the first half.
Back to back three-pointers by James and Chalmers put the Heat ahead by 16 with 5:41 left in the third quarter. A timeout by Suns coach Alvin Gentry did nothing to stop the run.
A double-team on the perimeter by the Shane Battier and Chalmers led to a stunning fast-break dunk by James on other end. Chalmers followed with another three-pointer — and as if they had some kind of personal competition going on — James backed it with another monstrous dunk.
The basket’s stanchion rocked back and forth under James’ 6-8, 250-pound frame, and the Heat had a 21-point lead. But the offensive fireworks weren’t over.
Battier drilled a three-pointer with to give the Heat a 91-69 lead and, following a pair of free throws by Ray Allen, James knocked down his second three-pointer of the quarter. The Heat scored 33 points in the third period, extending its consecutive streak of 30-plus points in a quarter to four. Entering the fourth quarter against the Suns, the Heat scored at least 30 points in 8 of 11 quarters at home.
Allen had 15 points off the bench, going 4 of 9 from the field and 3 of 4 from distance. Allen’s free throws with 1:01 left in the third quarter gave him 23,001 points for his career. Only Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki have more points among active players.
“It’s a sign or seal of verification of it’s everything I’ve ever done in my career coming into league and trying to understand or realize what my impact was going to be,” Allen said. “Numbers always stand out and speak for themselves.”
Suns reserve Shannon Brown had 18 points off the bench, and Luis Scola had 15 points. Center Marcin Gortat scored 12 points and had 13 rebounds. Point guard Goran Dragic, Nash’s replacement, had 13 points and nine assists.
Udonis Haslem had 12 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes. It was by far Haslem’s best game of the young season. He entered the game with two points on the season. Lewis and reserve point guard Norris Cole had six points each.