MIAMI — As the Miami Heat digest a “heartbreaking” 100-96 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Erik Spoelstra and his team believe a reverse call will change the game. Third quarter momentum will provide a “case study” for the NBA when it comes to replay reviews.
The call in question came with 11:04 remaining in the third quarter, when Heat guard Max Strus knocked down a 3-pointer deep in the corner that cut the Celtics’ lead, which had been up to 17 earlier. in the first half, at 56-54.
After several minutes of game action – during which the Celtics staged their own run – the call was canceled by the NBA replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Spoelstra admitted he was “shocked” after the points were taken off the board.
Spoelstra also said he didn’t immediately see the replay of the call in question, which appeared to show Strus’ feet just touching the out of bounds line.
“I was in shock,” Spoelstra said. “I was asking [assistant coach] [Chris Quinn] about that. The fact that it happened, three to four, five minutes of playing time, it changes the context of how you play. We were starting to gain ground. You feel like it’s a seven, eight point game and you look up and it’s a 13 point game, and there’s no explanation for that other than the return to the offices of the league. You feel like if it happens like this, it should happen immediately and you can adjust accordingly.”
Despite his frustration with the timing of the knockdown, Spoelstra repeatedly clarified that was not the reason the Heat lost the game.
“Look, that’s not why we lost,” he said. “We still had a lot of opportunities. We just couldn’t control the game. A lot of it was in Boston. We just kept grinding and we gave ourselves a chance at the end. We didn’t we just couldn’t make enough plays in the game. I felt like most of the game we were going from an 8-10 point deficit.
Going forward, Spoelstra knows that the game in question will be discussed at upcoming league meetings.
“I’m sure they’ll look into that, and we’ll probably be the case study for that,” Spoelstra said. “I’m fine if it goes like before. They would watch it next foul or break and watch it and notice it, but it was probably 10 minutes in real time – someone is checking that.
“I’m not crying or complaining. Come on, we were beaten. It was two competitive teams. We had a crack at the end. Even as uneven as the game seemed, we had a crack. Our guys don’t never think we have a chance to do it.”
Even though Spoelstra tried to put his frustration aside, he knows the call – and the change in momentum – changed how his group felt in the minutes during and after Strus fired – a shot that will be to always be written in the box score as a turnover with Strus going out of bounds.
“It was so unusual for us to grind and start building momentum, and then it was like, oh, hey, by the way, take that 3 off, with no explanation whatsoever,” Spoelstra said. “It’s the human side. It’s not the complaining side. Who knows if it would have made any difference, anyway.”
According to Spoelstra, the Heat still had an opportunity to win the game in the dying seconds, even after dropping 7 points with just over a minute left. After several clutch shots and questionable decision making by the Celtics, Heat star Jimmy Butler raced down the floor with the Heat trailing 98-96, and kicked a 3-pointer with about 17 seconds remaining that would have given the Heat the lead. — and, potentially, an unlikely victory.
But it wasn’t meant to be, as Butler’s shot hit the rim, and the Celtics grabbed the rebound and froze the game.
After the end, Spoelstra said he had no problem with Butler’s decision.
“I thought it would have been an amazing story for Jimmy to stop and hit that 3,” Spoelstra said. “I love that about Jimmy. It was the right look, and I just thought as I left his hand, I thought for sure it was going to fall.
“It was a good clean look, definitely better than anything we could have come up with. It’s a shame it didn’t end this way, but I can’t praise Boston enough.”
Butler, who finished with 35 points and played all 48 minutes of Game 7, had no qualms about shooting.
“My thought process was to go for the win,” Butler said. “What I did. I missed a shot. But I take this shot. My teammates liked the shot I took. So I live with it.”
After single-handedly carrying the Heat’s offense throughout the series, Butler was tough on himself after finishing arguably the most impressive streak of his career.
“Not good enough,” Butler said. “I didn’t do my job. Stats mean nothing, as I say over and over again. The Boston Celtics did what they came here to do in this series. I learned that I had to be better, and I will be better.
“Go back to the lab and have the opportunity to train with these guys over the summer, and we’ll come back better than ever.”
As for what’s next, Butler remains confident the Heat have enough to cross the threshold and return to the Finals next season.
“Find a way to be consistent,” Butler said. “I think we’ve had enough – I think we’ve had enough. It sucks because you don’t know who’s going to be on the roster in any given year, you know what I’m saying. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to play with the guys I had to play with, it’s like that every year in the league.
“We’ve had enough. Next year we’ve had enough and we’re going to be in the same situation, and we’re going to do it.”