HEAT 95 - Suns 83 Recap

December 23 – Something important happened in the midst of Thursday’s 95-83 victory over the Phoenix Suns. Something that may seem minor in the context of the now, but come playoffs, may be all the difference.

After the Miami HEAT took advantage of the unfamiliarity in the Suns’ second unit – following a trade with Orlando which involved the exchange of six players – to mount a 21-7 run in the second quarter, the HEAT rolled to a double-digit advantage in the middle of the third quarter. Just as in Miami in November, the Suns couldn’t find any matchups to exploit and were at the mercy of their own perimeter shooting.

Then, in the span of one minute, LeBron James picked up his third and fourth fouls and was forced to the bench. With Dwyane Wade already sitting out due to knee soreness suffered from banging knees with Jason Kidd last Monday, the HEAT were going to be without their two primary playmakers for the final 5:32 of the third, up 65-53.

If Phoenix was going to recover and make a run, this was the perfect time to do it. Miami’s bench just didn’t agree.

Sixteen points on 6-of-20 shooting may not seem like much, but with Chris Bosh (23 points and 11 rebounds) and James Jones playing the anchors, the bench not only successfully treaded water, but they even extended the lead to thirteen by the end of the period.

It didn’t require any heroics, either. Mario Chalmers responded to a Marcin Gortat bucket by pulling up for three when the defense sagged in on Bosh. On the next possession, Bosh drove left across the lane for the hoop and the foul. Later, Mike Miller drew a foul and hit a free throw. In all, just seven points in more than five minutes, but that’s all it takes when you hold the opposition to six points on 2-of-7 shooting, complete with four turnovers.

No, it wasn’t pretty, and it’s not a sequence that can be carbon copied, but those five-plus minutes showed how even one bucket, one drawn charge or one tipped pass from one of Miami’s role players can make the difference between the primary scorers coming into the game with the lead or with their opponent gathering major momentum at home.

As well as making it much easier to absorb the inevitable run which will always come from the other team, just as the HEAT were able to take Jared Dudley’s 13 fourth-quarter points in stride and keep the Suns at arm’s length.

Of course, the headlines will rightfully credit LeBron James’ 36 points on 22 shots and the HEAT holding the league’s third-most efficient offense to 40 percent shooting and 90 points per 100 possessions, 22 below their season average. But if the regular season is as much about the process as the HEAT continually say it is, those five minutes in the third quarter may be nearly as important as any highlight dunks in traffic or eye-popping numbers the HEAT have and will continue to produce.