The Miami Heat were one 3-point shot away from booking a ticket to the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons.
In the deciding Game 7, Miami successfully cut down the lead to just two points on a Max Strus 3-ball with less than a minute remaining after being down by double digits. The Heat went on an 11-0 run before Jimmy Butler missed the potential game-winning triple. If Butler’s 3-point attempt went in, it would be a completely different story.
But it didn’t.
There was not enough gas left in the tank after Butler played all 48 minutes in regulation. After all that push and pull, he ended with 35 points and nine rebounds, shooting 54.2 percent from the field. He helped diminish what was once a 17-point lead down to single digits by the end of the game.
That’s why you can’t really blame him. Coaches will always live and die with their superstars, and if that was the decision their star player made, then so be it. He left it all on the floor and his effort was truly admirable.
The Heat just ran out of players. Only eight players saw action, with Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro playing a scrappy seven minutes the entire series.
Unfortunately, that has been the story of Miami all season long. They had to deal with multiple injuries to their key players at crucial points of the season. They were forced to go deeper with their bench in the hopes that someone would step up and help win games.
For a time, it worked. The roster unpredictability left their opponents confused, but over time, inconsistency caught up to them.
“It’s tough because you don’t know who’s going to be on the roster any given year,” Butler added.
And it’s even tougher on Butler because he needs to take on more of the responsibilities. Their issue with availability was not so apparent during the regular season, but in the playoffs, their lack of consistency became their weakness. When they went up against the Boston Celtics—a team that had a solid core and played significant time together—the Heat collapsed.
“Having some continuity with the team and understanding who you’re going to be there with and [their] tendencies,” said Kyle Lowry, who also missed significant time in the playoffs. “It definitely helps. We look forward to getting better over the summer and getting back to this opportunity next year.”
Dealing with a team like Miami is like holding a double-edged sword. There was always a lingering thought of “what type of Heat team will you get today”.
Reaching the Eastern Conference Finals might be an accomplishment for some, but for Lowry “it was a waste of a year.”
“If you’re not playing for a championship, [or] you don’t win a championship, it’s a waste of a year,” he said.
At the beginning of the season, there was skepticism about how the Heat would perform given the minimal roster changes. Not a lot believed they would even get this far, but they did. They were one game away from the NBA Finals after all the adversity they had to face.
Herro and Lowry were hurt during crucial stretches of the postseason, Bam Adebayo was underutilized at the beginning, and Butler did all he could. With all the baggage they carried, they still managed to eliminate the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, and they forced the Celtics into fighting for their lives in the final moments of Game 7.
To say this season was a failure is an overstatement. If anything, it was just a missed opportunity that they can surely bounce back from.