The Miami Heat have witnessed ample adversity up close over the past month alone, from the Indiana Pacers firing their coach after being swept by the Heat in the first round, to the Milwaukee Bucks holding a summit with team leader Giannis Antetokounmpo after being ousted by the Heat in the second round, to the Boston Celtics turning their locker-room into open conflict after falling behind 0-2 in these Eastern Conference finals.
And yet, in their own house, adversity has been little more than an abstract. The longest losing streak during the regular season was three games. The playoff record, even with Saturday night’s 117-106 loss to the Celtics, is still 10-2.
But for the first time in months, angst has entered the equation, not necessarily because of the lead in the best-of-seven series being reduced to 2-1, but because of the way they were punched in the face by a more desperate opponent Saturday night, including being pummelled 60-36 in paint points in Game 3.
Suddenly, playing with fire no longer means merely getting warmed up. After overcoming 14- and 17-point deficits in the series’ first two games, there was no overcoming what would grow into a 20-point deficit Saturday, even with a spirited rally that closed the gap to five with 55.9 seconds to play.
“We didn’t play hard enough,” forward Jimmy Butler said, in what stands as the ultimate Heat self-indictment. “I think we didn’t do anything that we said that we were going to do.
“We knew how they were going to attack us. We weren’t helping each other. We weren’t making an extra pass a lot of the times. We have to play basketball the way we have been playing the games that we have been winning. We understand that.”
There now will be ample time for introspection, with the series not to resume until Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
“Now we really see what we’re made of,” Butler said. “They won a game. You can say that they have the momentum. Now it’s up to us to come in and win the next one. We’re definitely capable of it.
“We have a lot to fix and we’ve got to get back to playing basketball the way we know how.”
After the Heat played in chase mode for a third consecutive game, centre Bam Adebayo, who was personally dominant in Game 3, with 27 points and 16 rebounds, said enough is enough.
“We’re not the type of team where we can go through the motions and try and figure out everything in the first half, and then in the third or fourth we just try to turn it on,” he said. “It’s not like that. We are not that type of team.
“I guess they got tired of us being down 13 and coming back and winning. We just got to do a better job of not letting ourselves get in a big deficit.”
The Celtics showed Saturday what was needed with backs against the wall, just as they showed in the previous round, when their own 2-0 lead turned into a 2-2 tie before finishing off the Toronto Raptors in seven games.
“There’s some great guys in that locker-room,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said. “A lot of emotion, a lot of passion. But we’re a family. We are here for each other at the end of the day. So we exemplified that when we came out together. We stayed together during some tough moments.”
The Heat aren’t there yet when it comes to desperation, still two victories from the franchise’s sixth trip to the NBA Finals, having thrived in the neutral-court setting of Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But while a three-day break is not optimal, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not seem to mind his team having to marinate in Saturday’s result.
“Got some time. (It’ll) be good,” he said. “I want our guys thinking about this.”
Remaining series schedule: No. 5 Heat vs. No. 3 Celtics
Game 4: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 5: Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 6*: Sunday, Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. ET
Game 7*: TBD