Heat check: Johnson, Dragic guide Miami’s strong effort

MIAMI — In an unexpectedly physical game that saw three players being ejected, the Miami Heat took control of the game early and held on down the stretch to convincingly beat the Phoenix Suns 115-98 on Monday.

Powered by a solid first half on both ends of the court, the Heat maintained their lead in their strongest game from beginning to end since Chris Bosh was lost for the season.

”It meant a lot,” said Goran Dragic. ”You always want to play good against your ex-teammates. It was a tough game, you saw a lot of technicals, ejections but at the same time it is a man’s sport. I thought we played awesome tonight. I was anxious to do well so I got into foul trouble.”

It was a battle inside early, with both teams in the first quarter combining for 30 out of 47 points in the paint and zero points from beyond the arc. Even though the Heat shot 50 percent in the first quarter, they were unable to take the lead until a dominant second quarter in which they outscored the Suns 39-24 by forcing turnovers, consistently getting to the free-throw line and shooting an impressive 63.6 percent from the field.

Pushing through early foul trouble, Goran Dragic gave his former team plenty of headaches with 21 points and four assists on a variety of drives to the basket. He was fouled hard by former teammate Markieff Morris on a fast-break attempt in the third quarter that fired up the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd. Morris would be ejected after the referees ruled it was a flagrant two foul and soon after centers Hassan Whiteside and Alex Len would be ejected as well following a brief scuffle on the floor.

Once things settled down, the Heat turned it up with a 30-point fourth quarter featuring Dragic and a resurgent Tyler Johnson leading the way for the hard-fought victory.

”I like the fight of this team and that is why I said that we were fighters,” said Dwyane Wade, who finished with 16 points, nine assists and four steals. ”It doesn’t mean that we are going to win every game but we are going to fight and give ourselves a chance.”

THE TURNING POINT

The Suns cut the deficit to seven points after the Heat went scoreless in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Michael Beasley and Johnson then scored the Heat’s next 12 points over the course of the next three minutes that boosted their lead back up to double-digits.

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THE DIFFERENCE MAKER

Johnson had played a total of seven minutes and three consecutive DNPs since the trade that netted Goran Dragic, but his energy and hustle was the key to the game. He led the team with 26 points on a highly efficient 10-13 field goal shooting, including a perfect 3-3 from 3-point territory.

”Tyler was fantastic tonight,” said head coach Erik Spoelstra. ”We needed another guy to be aggressive with Goran out of there. He was really aggressive. Fearless, especially a couple of possessions where they denied us, got us out of what we wanted to get and he just put his head down, attacked the basket and made some plays.”

STAT OF THE GAME

Miami enjoyed their highest scoring quarter of the season with 39 points in the second, breaking the mark set in the fourth quarter of their prior game on Saturday versus the Atlanta Hawks.

WHAT’S NEXT

Miami will host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.