Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals seemed to be an ideal situation for the Miami Heat.
Not only was it held at the FTX Arena, but the Heat also had momentum following a confidence-boosting Game 6 win in Boston.
Although they were down at halftime, they were being propped up by the stellar play of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Butler, who was coming off a playoff career-high 47 points in Game 6, looked to perhaps even better that performance as he had 24 points in two quarters of play. Adebayo, who only scored six points in the previous game, was already approaching a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds at the break.
The Miami backcourt, though, continued to struggle.
Through two quarters, Kyle Lowry, Max Strus, and Tyler Herro were a combined 1-of-10 shooting from the field. Adding Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent didn’t move the needle much, as they would only make it an inefficient 3-for-16 from the field through two quarters.
A terrible shooting half like that is quite difficult, but not impossible to overcome. That the Heat were only down by six points, 55-49, to the Boston Celtics was a blessing and something they could build on especially as Butler and Adebayo combined for 37 points and were shooting well themselves.
In the end, though, the Celtics never let up and advanced to the NBA Finals by holding off a final stand from Miami, who will head to the offseason ruing some missed chances and the what-ifs that come with them.
Injuries were a larger concern in this series than in arguably any point this season. Herro never entered the court in the second half of Game 7, while Butler was hobbled by a right knee injury. Other Heat players like Strus, PJ Tucker, and Lowry were all dealing with their own ailments, with Lowry having missed multiple games because of issues with his left hamstring.
Knowing Miami, they themselves will never cite injuries as an excuse, but a series like this has once again highlighted how the best ability, despite all talent and resources, remains to be availability.
Beyond the health, it was the shot making in the second half that spelled doom for the Heat and the frustrations about letting a winnable game slip away were not lost on Miami.
The Heat cut Boston’s lead many times in the second half despite Marcus Smart hitting backbreaking 3-pointers, the likes of 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Finals MVP Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scoring through nifty moves to the basket, and even with officials reversing Strus’ 3-pointer with 11:04 left in the third quarter after he was reportedly seen stepping out of bounds as he was taking his shot. Unfortunately, Miami could not complete the comeback due in large part to some questionable shot selection despite better options available.
Butler’s missed 3-point attempt with 16.6 seconds left in the game and the Heat down two points will certainly be among the hot topics, but there were other possessions in the earlier portions of the game that were either too early in the possession or drives that could have been executed better. Running through their offensive sets to get the right mismatch and keep the Celtics defense off their game was the better option, especially given that both Tatum and Brown were dealing with some foul trouble.
It would be understandable if some say Miami’s season ended with disappointment, but to say it is a lost one would be a reach. The Heat can easily run it back next season with some rest and recovery, more so for the likes of Adebayo and Gabe Vincent, both of whom have been playing basketball pretty much non-stop due to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Sometimes even the most ideal situations don’t bring about the most desired outcomes and the Miami Heat will enter the offseason with some pangs of regret and questions on how to move forward. The HOW will especially be important, considering how close they were to playing until June and how unwise it would be to make the same mistakes again next year.