The Miami Heat’s challenging Game 7 loss will be tough to swallow for quite some time. The biggest ” what if ” for Coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff won’t just be about Jimmy Butler’s pull-up triple with less than 10 seconds to go on the clock. The question will also be reserved for Max Strus’ momentum-changing overturning three-pointer in the third quarter.
The controversial call came nearly a minute into the third frame. Strus knocked down a corner three-ball to cut Boston’s lead to 56-54. After the Celtics went on a run, League officials at the NBA replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey, elected to overturn the ball because Strus’ heel was out of bounds on the ball. The call left Spoelstra “in shock” as Miami’s points were taken off the board.
“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 in-game time, that does change the context of how you’re playing. We were starting to gain some momentum. 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 other explanation for it other than it’s gone back to the league offices. You feel like if it happens like that, it should happen immediately, and you can adjust accordingly.”
Although the call was a major source of frustration, Spoelstra repeatedly reiterated that the overturned play wasn’t the reason Miami lost.
“Look, that’s not the reason we lost,” he said. “We still had plenty of opportunities. We just couldn’t get control of the game. A lot of that was Boston. We didn’t stop grinding, and we gave ourselves a shot at it at the end. We just couldn’t make enough plays during the course of the game. It felt like most of the game we were grinding from an eight-to-10-point deficit.”
However, because of the nature of the game and how high-profile the controversial the call was, Spoelstra knows it will be discussed at future League meetings.
“I’m sure they will look at that, and we’ll probably be the case study for it,” Spoelstra said. “I’m OK if it happens the way it used to. They would look at it at the next foul or break and look at it and notice it, but it was probably 10 minutes of real-time — somebody check on that.
“I’m not crying or whining. Come on; we got beat. This was two competitive teams going at it. We had a crack at it at the end. Even as uneven as the game seemed, we had a crack at it. Our guys are never going to, like, not think we have a chance at it.”
After Strus’ three was waved off, Miami still had a chance to win in the waning seconds after cutting a seven-point deficit to two with just over a minute to go. Butler’s potential game-winner was shot, and Boston iced their 100-96 win with two free throws from Defensive Player of the Year winner Marcus Smart.
In the aftermath, Spoelstra had no issue with the best player on the Heat taking the possible game-winner, calling it a clean look and “better than anything we could have designed.”
Butler played all 48 minutes of the win-or-go-home Game 7 tilt, finishing with 35 points and nine rebounds.
“My thought process was go for the win,” Butler said. “Which I did. Missed a shot. But I’m taking that shot. My teammates liked the shot that I took. So I’m living with it.”
As tough as it is for Miami, their season is finished. Boston and the Golden State Warriors take center stage for Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Warriors will host Game 1 of the series at the Chase Center in San Francisco.