Goran Dragic faced up against his former employers on Monday night, as his new team Miami Heat squared off against the Phoenix Suns at American Airlines Arena.
It was the first time the pair had clashed since Dragic’s infamous decision to take his talents to South Beach on the final day of the trade deadline. It was sure to be a heated encounter, especially after his former organisation had labeled him selfish following his move and it did not disappoint.
Miami were down six after the first quarter, but rallied and produced their best scoring performance in a second quarter so far this season with a staggering 39 points. The amazing offensive display meant they went into halftime with a commanding 62-48 lead.
The storyline of this game was meant to be Dragic squaring off against his former teammates but it soon turned into an all out war on all fronts, with every player on the court going at each other with ferocious intensity.
The seemingly bad blood between the teams soon bubbled over into frustration. Markieff Morris was the first to cross the line with a flagrant foul on who else but Dragic. The reigning most improved player was going for a layup when Morris left him reeling with a close line mid-air, causing Dragic to go off with a back spasm, but he would return.
It was the big men at it next with Miami’s emerging star Hassan Whiteside and Alex Len scuffling after a Whiteside rebound and dunk. The Miami center seemed to attempt to rugby tackle Len and both players got ejected. When asked about the incident, Whiteside stated,
“You’re not going to come into Miami and bully us.”
It summed up the game as the two teams battled for a physical upper-hand against each other and it wasn’t long until another altercation occurred.
The Heat’s Henry Walked got called for a flagrant foul on Marcus Morris after an over the top body check, which lead to words between the two. It was a crazy game to watch and you didn’t really know what was going to happen next and you always felt it was one call away from an all-out brawl.
You forgot that Miami were so far ahead and that there was some basketball being played (somewhere) amongst the scuffles and the biggest highlight of the night in terms of actual play was without doubt the emergence of Tyler Johnson, a recent call up from the D-league.
Johnson had a career high 26-points, which is all the more astounding when one considers his highest scoring performance in four years at Fresno University was 25 points. Dragic had 21 points in just under a foul-full 15 minutes, while Hassan Whiteside had a double-double with 17 points and ten rebounds. Dwayne Wade had 16 points and nine assists.
P.J. Tucker led the way for the Suns with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Eric Bledsoe also dropped 20. Brandon Knight (the man brought in to replace Dragic) had 13 points, the same as Markieff Morris while his twin Marcus had eleven and Alex Len had 11 points and ten rebounds before he was ejected. The Heat ran out 115-98 winners but it was anything but comfortable.
It was a big win for Miami in the play-off race and with all the build-up around this game concerning Dragic and his former team, the Slovenian guard certainly relished the victory, stating he wouldn’t have played through back spams for any other opponent.
“It means a lot,” Dragic said about the win. “It was a tough game. You can see a lot of technicals, ejections, but it’s a man’s sport. I thought we played awesome tonight.”
The Dragon’s fire is certainly starting to burn bright in South Beach.
Ciaran Darcy, Pundit Arena
Featured image By AchimH (http://www.flickr.com/photos/achimh/3201653864/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.