BOSTON – The Miami Heat believe in what they do.
It’s an ethos established by owner Micky Arison, and it filters through team president Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg, vice president of basketball operations Adam Simon, other front office staffers, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his assistants, players and all the way down to intern in the video department.
The goal is a championship, especially with the roster and record they had this season.
But Miami’s season ended short of that objective with a 100-96 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday.
It was a 4-3 series loss with the Heat beat up and worn down, unable to generate enough offense against the Celtics, who won the three of the final four games of the series after trailing 2-1.
“It feels heartbreaking,” Spoelstra said. “We just wanted a crack at it. A crack at Golden State, and just find out, you know, as competitors.
“I love this group. This team was here to compete for a title. In that regard, I think we lived up to those expectations. But we fell short. We’ll never know, and that’s the part that we’ll have to live with.”
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Part of the Heat’s demise is attributed to injuries though they refused to blame that.
“If we had a day in between somewhere, or maybe a couple of those gaps, guys could have recovered a bit more,” Spoelstra said. “But both teams were dealing with it. We were dealing with quite a few things as well. It’s not an excuse. We got beat.”
Jimmy Butler (right knee inflammation) wasn’t 100%, Kyle Lowry (strained left hamstring) missed eight playoff games, including the first of the conference finals; Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro (strained left groin) missed three of the final four games against the Celtics, and Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and P.J. Tucker were also listed as questionable throughout the series.
“Tyler would have helped in this series, to be able to have another playmaker, a guy that could get into those gaps and make those plays in between that are not necessarily scripted or play call actions. That’s part of his greatness,” Spoelstra said.
Those injuries had an impact on Miami’s offense. The Heat scored 105.5 points per 100 possessions and shot 41.6% from the field including 30% on 3-pointers against Boston after scoring 113 points per 100 possessions and shooting 46.7% from the field and 35.8% on 3-pointers during the regular season. Boston’s top-rated defense also had an impact of those lower scoring and shooting stats.
“We just came out a little bit more fresh tonight, and that’s sometimes the luck of the series, luck of health and how it goes,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.
Where do the Heat, who also reached the NBA Finals in 2020, go from here?
“You know, when it ends like this, it ends with a thud,” Spoelstra said. “You’re not ever contemplating that I would be speaking in front of you guys talking about the offseason.”
They have a core of Butler, who was the most impactful player on the court for much of the series, Lowry and Bam Adebayo. But the window with Butler, who will be 33 at the start of next season, and Lowry, who turns 37 late next season, is closing.
“Not good enough. I didn’t do my job,” said Butler, who scored 47 and 35 points in Game 6 and Game 7. “Stats don’t mean anything, as I say over and over again. The Boston Celtics did what they came out here to do in this series. I learned that I have to be better, and I will be better. Get back to the lab and have an opportunity to work out with these guys over the summer, and we’ll come back better than ever.”
The Heat do not have salary cap space to sign a top-tier free agent with Butler, Adebayo, Lowry and Duncan Robinson taking up $113.2 million of the cap in 2022-23. Robinson fell out of the main rotation against Milwaukee and Boston, and he has four years and $74.3 million left on his contract. If the Heat can’t get more out of Duncan, that contract stings. The Heat are also known for getting the most out of players.
Herro is up for a rookie extension but under contract for next season. Max Strus and Gabe Vincent are on team friendly $1.8 million deals, and Omer Yurtseven has a $1.7 million deal for next season. Tucker has a player option on next season’s contract.
Victor Oladipo, Markieff Morris, Dewayne Dedmon and Udonis Haslem are free agents, and Caleb Martin is a restricted free agent.
The Heat have the capability to add quality role players. They are over the cap but not over the luxury tax and could have three exceptions to use: the non-taxpayer midlevel exception at $10.2 million per season (depending on what Tucker does), the bi-annual exception at $4 million per season and a trade exception at $1.7 million.
And that doesn’t include any trades the Heat’s creative front office might make to improve the roster.
“We look forward to the opportunity of getting better over the summer and getting back to this opportunity next year,” Lowry said.