Twenty-two seconds remained as the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler pushed the ball in transition. Miami was looking to cap an 11-0 run in the final three minutes of this past Sunday’s decisive Game 7 against the Boston Celtics for a chance to go to the NBA Finals.
Butler pulled up for what would’ve been a go-ahead three-pointer and likely have sent his team to the finals. But then…he missed.
A series that saw both teams fighting injuries and questionable officiating resulted in a 4-3 series win for the Celtics, who last night took the first game in the finals, beating the Golden State Warriors 120 to 108 after a furious comeback.
If there’s one thing we know about Miami and the “Heat Culture,” it is that they leave everything on the court and give no excuses.
“We just couldn’t get control of the game,” said Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra post-game. “[We] had plenty of opportunities.”
The Heat were eliminated after their ninth conference finals appearance, but this was still a memorable season for them. Getting so close sets the front office up nicely for the offseason because they know this current roster isn’t far from challenging for a title. As Heat fans come down from the emotional roller coasters that were Game 6 and 7 — and pay some attention to the finals maybe — here are the takeaways from the 2021-22 season.
The Heat’s development staff continues to be one of the best in the NBA.
Over the last decade, Miami has had a knack for finding diamonds in the rough via free agency and the undrafted player pool. Hassan Whiteside, Duncan Robinson, Josh Richardson and Kendrick Nunn — among others — arrived in Miami having not impressed many scouts pre-draft and were made into serviceable players who earned big paydays after their first stints in Miami.
Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and Omer Yurtseven are the latest in the Heat’s undrafted-to-starter pipeline. The difference now is that they all broke through simultaneously.
Strus, Vincent and Martin were key to the team’s success, especially during December and January, when Miami saw its stars miss extended time with injuries and positive Covid cases. It was then that Vincent established himself in the rotation. He stayed even after starting point guard Kyle Lowry returned and was key in filling in for Lowry again during the playoffs.
Strus nearly doubled his points per game (PPG) average from the previous season and was one of the leading three-point shooters on the team. The former DePaul guard eventually took over starting shooting guard Duncan Robinson’s spot after gaining trust from Spoelstra, so much trust that he was one of the five on the floor for Miami in the closing minutes of Sunday’s game against the Celtics.
Here are some key takeaways from the season:
Jimmy Butler can be your number one option, but he can’t be your only option.
The biggest takeaway basketball fans have from watching the Heat in the playoffs this year is that all-star forward Jimmy Butler was incredible.
Butler led the charge, improving his PPG from 21.4 in the regular season to 27.4 in the playoffs, and pushing his three-point percentage by ten percent. This led him to an all-time playoff run in Heat history, totaling four 40-point games, passing LeBron James for second-ever among Heat players.
His dominance over the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals, where he scored 47 and 35 respectively, further cemented his legacy as an all-time great in Miami.
And all that was still not enough, as the Heat were massively let down by their other stars and the supporting cast throughout the playoffs.
Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Kyle Lowry all saw decreases in their scoring and player efficiency ratings (PER) during the postseason. When it counted most in conference finals, Butler exploded, averaging 41 over the last two games while nobody else scored more than 25. Miami’s three point shooting was also down as the team shot 31.3% in the playoffs, quite the fall from a league-leading 37.9% in the regular season.
Since Butler’s arrival in Miami in the summer of 2019, there have been questions about his ability to lead a team to a championship as the number-one option.
Those questions have mostly been laid to rest as he carried this team as far as he could. But concerns about Adebayo and Herro, and whether they can compliment Butler well in the Heat’s pursuit of their fourth championship, remain.
Butler needs an additional scoring punch to help him manage the load on offense if the team wants to get over the line next year. Is the answer in-house? Can it be Adebayo consistently? Or will Miami have to look elsewhere in the offseason?
Miami needs to address the aging players.
Last summer, the Heat front office put together a roster of vets and young players hoping the styles and mentalities would compliment each other well.
And for the most part, it did, until some key players started battling injuries late in Miami’s playoff run.
Lowry (36) and starting forward PJ Tucker (37) both showed signs of wear and tear during the playoffs. Lowry missed eight games in the postseason with a nagging hamstring injury and Tucker’s impact late in the conference finals just didn’t match the regular season.
As great as those two were for Miami all season, their long-term durability has raised some questions, and it would not be wise for Miami to depend as much on them next year.
There is also Butler’s age (32) and Lowry’s contract to consider.
While Butler isn’t considered an aging player, he is nearing the end of his championship window. With Lowry scheduled to make about $60 million over the next two years, the front office may want to address the futures of these players soon if they want to win within the Butler window.
Having a 38-year-old Tucker starting in the playoffs would not be ideal.
Coach Spoelstra was the coach of the year, even if the NBA disagrees.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra holds eighth place in all-time playoffs wins as a coach, and he continued to cement his legacy with, what might’ve been, his best season yet.
Spoelstra didn’t have his team at full strength until the final month of the season.
Butler missed 25 games, Adebayo missed 26, Lowry missed 19 and Victor Oladipo missed all but eight games during the regular season. When his stars went out in early December, many thought that the Heat would freefall down the standings. At times, coach Spo started a lineup featuring four undrafted players, and Miami still never lost its grip on first place in the eastern conference.
Spo kept his team at first in the east and was awarded the right to coach Team Durant during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game.
He coached a team with one all star, no All-NBA players, and five undrafted players in the rotation to the first seed in the east and got them within one game, one shot really, of the NBA Finals.
It was a season that culminated in coach Spo finishing third in Coach of the Year voting. Those who followed the Heat closely, something the league’s award voters do not do, know he was neither third nor second best.
“Pepas” is the best Heat anthem by a mile.
The Heat has had a number of anthems attached to deep playoff runs in the past. Namely The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” in 2013 and Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “****** in Paris” in 2012.
This was the year of Farruko’s “Pepas” in South Beach.
This is the song that would play at FTX Arena’s PA when the Heat would lock up a home win and it got the crowd going. Seeing Miami’s bench and the crowd bouncing in unison created a memorable atmosphere inside FTX, one that intensified deep into the playoffs.
Miami welcomed a full-strength, white-hot playoff crowd back inside their home arena for the first time since 2018, and the crowd did not disappoint.
The Heat didn’t get the job done with “Pepas,” but the song made for a memorable home playoff atmosphere.
There are trade assets in South Beach and the front office is on the clock.
Miami’s flaws were exposed in the playoffs but were mitigated by Butler. There have always been questions about where the scoring would come from for the Heat in the postseason, and when the shooting dried up, points were hard to come by and the team was forced to win games with defense.
This must be a big area of concern for the front office in the offseason if it wants to keep Butler healthy and in good form as he pushes into his mid-30s.
The trade market is one way to improve the team’s offense, and luckily the development staff has created trade assets out of the players.
Rumors of disgruntled stars like the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell or the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal may be of interest to Miami’s front office. Having developed players like Strus, Vincent and Martin, and with a couple of first-round picks at their disposal, the Heat management is likely to attach any combination of those to a trade package headlined by Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson.
That’s not to say that Miami has to go the trade route, but the clock is ticking on the Jimmy Butler window and they may need to make some moves to achieve the ultimate goal of bringing home a fourth championship in franchise history.