The Miami Heat were the top team in the Eastern Conference for most of this past season.
They secured the top seed and came one 3-point shot away from possibly going to their second NBA Finals in the last three years.
But injuries and running out of gas, paired with going up against a dominant Boston Celtics defense proved to be too much for the Miami Heat. Their culture can only take them so far.
And in a tragic turn of events, what got the Heat to that point, is exactly what kept them from going any further.
The Miami Heat have a distinct style that carried them deep into the playoffs. But their depth failed them in the end and kept them from reaching the NBA Finals.
Their calling card is what led to their demise. All year long, the Heat culture was praised and rightfully so because for most of the year it worked.
But when Jimmy Butler struggled with a knee injury in Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, his supporting cast was nowhere to be found.
To get back to the Finals, the Heat need to find the proper depth to provide offensive support for Butler in the playoffs. Providing better shooters and playmakers who will not go cold like they did this year will be the first step for a Heat team that fizzled out.
In Game 3, the Heat got up on the Celtics early and never looked back. But the main storyline after the game was Butler’s injury. He left the Heat’s Game 3 win with knee inflammation which had bothered him earlier in the playoffs.
It was unclear how serious the injury was prior to the tipoff of Game 4. But once play started, it was clear to everyone Butler was not the same and in the next couple of games he was a shell of himself.
In Game 4 against Boston, the Heat struggled from everywhere on the floor and couldn’t seem to score at any point during the game. Miami only scored one point in the first eight minutes of play which marked the lowest total in a playoff game in the last 25 years.
In the first quarter, they shot 3 for 20 from the field, scored only 11 points (fewest in the playoffs in Heat franchise history) and did not make a field goal until there was 3:22 left in the quarter. They went into halftime with just 33 total points and at the end of the third quarter, Miami had scored just 52 points.
In that historically bad Game 4, Butler scored 14 points on a horrendous 21-percent shooting from the field. And in Game 5, he was only slightly better registering 18 points on 22-percent shooting from the floor.
The Heat shot poorly in the entire series though, not just when Butler vanished in Games 4 and 5.
For the series, Miami shot 41.6-percent from the field, 30-percent from three and had seven players shoot worse than 40-percent from the floor.
Miami had four guards who saw significant playing time (Jimmy Butler, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Lowry and Max Strus) shoot worse than 30-percent from beyond the arc.
Inexplicably, Duncan Robinson, who is getting paid $18 million per year, barely played. After Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, Robinson, the Miami Heat’s best three-point shooter in the regular season, saw his minutes decrease significantly in the playoffs.
When Miami went through their poor shooting stretches in the Eastern Conference Finals, fans could not help but notice his absence. He averaged 15 minutes per game, 6.6 points per game, and shot 29-percent from three in these critical games.
And with injuries on top of poor play from Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry, the Heat lost production from two of their top four scoring options.
Herro, who was the Sixth Man of the Year and their second-leading scorer, was out for three games of the series. And when he did play he was heavily restricted, averaging only 9.3 points per game which was a far cry from his 20.7 points per game in the regular season.
And Lowry, who missed two games of the series, shot only 28.6-percent from the field. Miami probably would have been better off without him. He looked out of shape and the $58 million left on his contract should have Heat fans worried. Lowry will need to prove next year that he still has something left in the tank.
The lone bright spot shooting percentage-wise was Bam Adebayo, who shot nearly 60-percent. But his points per game average in the series was down by six compared to his average in the regular season.
Despite these factors, Butler put together a miraculous performance to win Game 6 in Boston and force a Game 7 at home.
This goes back to the Heat culture that we heard about all year. There was a never say die attitude about the team that shined through passed the shooting woes.
And it is something the Orlando Magic, and every team in the league for that matter, can learn from.
Miami had two undrafted players, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, start in the backcourt during the Eastern Conference Finals, which is a testament to the developmental staff and their next-man-up mentality.
It takes guts to put Strus ahead of Robinson in the rotation considering the pay difference. Whether the Heat would have been better off with Robinson receiving more minutes or not, going with the hot hand and trusting the players on your roster is commendable.
They also had eight undrafted players on their 15-man roster. That is good enough for the most in the NBA. And they showed that you didn’t need high draft picks to build a team.
Oladipo (whom the Magic selected) was the highest drafted player on the roster. The highest player the Heat drafted was Tyler Herro at 13.
There was a ceiling to this Heat team when Butler struggled but their blueprint of strength through depth is something to strive for.
For Miami, they will need to add more reliable shooting options to help spread the floor for Butler, who isn’t an elite three-point shooter.
Orlando has a lot of young players on its roster. The team is waiting for someone to take the next step to vault the group into playoff contention. In the meantime, the Magic need to also focus on elevating their offensive production, just like the Heat.
Orlando had the 29th-ranked offense last year and shot 43-percent from the field and 33-percent from three for the year. Both of those marks were ranked 28th in the league.
The game becomes more physical in the playoffs so for the Magic to have success in the future those numbers will have to go up.
Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony shot a combined 29-percent from three this past year. Anthony kept that mark higher by shooting 34-percent, but outside shooting from the guard position is something that will need to improve for Orlando.
That is not going to be good enough to win any play-in games much less a playoff series.
At the end of the day, great offense beats great defense in the NBA. The paradigm has shifted in basketball and if your shots aren’t falling, you can kiss your championship hopes goodbye.
Teams like the Heat can hang their hat on defense and depth, but when facing injuries to their lineup and shooting poorly, those attributes that will be far less effective.
And for a team like the Orlando Magic who is looking to improve, investing in their shooting and offense will be just as crucial as finding their leading man.