Erik Spoelstra said the following about how his Miami Heat should react to their looking outmatched and overcome in their staggering playoff loss:
“Don’t listen to the noise,’ he said. “There’s no excuses, no blame, inside our room. This is what happens when you’re in great competition. They got the better of us. Now we look for answers.”
And so in the aftermath of Boston’s 25-point win in Game 2 of …
Oh, wait. Spoelstra didn’t say that after Thursday’s loss to Boston. He said it nine years ago after San Antonio beat the Heat by 36 points in Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
You might remember that year if you’re a Heat fan. That team’s banner hangs from the arena’s rafters, homage to their NBA championship after beating San Antonio in seven games.
What you don’t remember is the gut-feel of gloom after that staggering loss – just as most long playoff runs come with a kind of depressing loss the Heat suffered Thursday night at home against Boston.
This isn’t to say Spoelstra’s dilemma right now is demonstrably the same as those two championship years. There’s no LeBron James or Dwyane Wade coming through the door, no Chris Bosh to use inside. This franchise has come back from losses like Thursday. This team hasn’t.
But if the people and circumstances change but the storylines don’t in the playoffs: Blowout losses aren’t the end of great teams. Are the Heat great? That’s the larger question, the one to be decided in Boston. Bad nights are part of any long journey, at least if you know how to handle them.
Boston had a gut-check after being manhandled in Game 1 Now it’s the Heat’s turn. The Heat had three starters with six points or less in Game 2. That can’t happen again. One of them was Bam Adebayo, whose regular-season averages of 19.1 points and 10.1 rebounds have tumbled to 13.6 and 7.5 in the three series of these playoffs. That’s got to change.
Boston also made nine of its first 11 shots from three-point distance on Thursday night and its first 20 free throws. That explains how Boston led by 25 points at half, its biggest halftime lead in a road playoff game in franchise history. That history involves 17 championship teams and starts with a shootaround at Plymouth Rock, too.
The question becomes if against a tough and tested Boston team is where the absence of point guard Kyle Lowry can’t be overcome. Gabe Vincent is playing well in his absence. That’s why most of the national talk focused solely on Boston missing Marcus Smart and Al Horford in Game 1.
But Lowry is a veteran and championship guard who can read a night or a matchup and know how to move it in his favor. Vincent is in uncharted waters. There’s typically a price to pay for experience.
Adebayo? That’s more of a mystery, going this deep into a playoffs with such a severe drop-off in production. Yes, he’s a versatile defender, the rare kind that can set a defense. His offense always has been part of his game, too.
“They hit us in the mouth,’ he said of Game 2.
It was that kind of bad night all around South Florida. Bad? You know that scripted scene in a hundred movies where nothing goes right for the good guys, someone says, “At least it can’t get any worse,” and then the car tire goes flat?
It was that kind of Thursday night. The Florida Panthers made a Little League mistake that cost them Game 2 against Tampa Bay with 3.8 seconds left, 2-1.
The Heat were blown out of their own building in a manner that made the fourth quarter look like some summer league game. Oh, and P.J. Tucker left with a reported leg contusion. That’s something to watch.
“This only counts as one game,’ Spoelstra said. “That’s what experience players in the locker room, and staff, understand. We don’t like it. They played extremely well.
“We’ve got two really good teams and we’ve just got to figure some things out.”
He’s been here before. That’s part of the lore of great teams. In the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Heat president Pat Riley showed up at Spoelstra’s hotel suite in Indianapolis with a bottle of wine and asked how he could help after a blowout loss put the Heat down 2-to-1. Riley began breaking down film like the rest of the staff.
“He went to work like we all did,’ Spoelstra said then.
Panic isn’t a plan. The Heat won’t panic. The question becomes how they respond.
“It can’t get much worse,’’ Jimmy Butler said. “They whipped us on our home court.”
We’ll see about that, just as we will who the Heat are in Game 3 and what answers they have.