Here’s how it goes with great players. Everything stops when they shoot for the season. Everyone meets their greatest hopes and worst fears with the ball in the air.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, no,’ ‘ the opposing coach said.
“When it was in the air, I thought it was the great ending,’ the Miami Heat coach said
This wasn’t about Jimmy Butler’s final 3-point attempt Sunday, the one that missed with 16.6 seconds left in Game 7 against Boston and the sports world debated its merit as the Heat season became its offseason with a 100-96 loss.
This was about Dan Marino’s final pass in the 1994 playoff game in San Diego. This is about the Hall of Misses that Butler’s shot now is a part of, the silent room of what-ifs and what-happeneds in South Florida sports that’s as much of being a sports fan as the celebrated moments.
“You live with these decisions,’ Marino said a deep pass missed, leaving a long field goal that missed to end that Dolphins season.
“I’d take that shot again,” Butler said.
He deserved that shot. He was the only player to play all 48 minutes in Game 7. He scored the second-most points (82) in a combined Game 6 and 7 in NBA history to Allen Iverson. He picked up this Heat franchise this postseason and carried it to this finish, the hero’s finish that wasn’t.
This is how you want to lose, even if this isn’t the 3-point shot isn’t Butler’s strength. That became a what-if question inside the what-if shot. What if, one-on-one, he’d driven against Boston’s Al Horford? What if he ‘d played to his strength his that way?
What if Marino had thrown a short pass to make a shorter field goal?
“My thought process is to go for the win, which is I did,’ Butler said. “I missed the shot, but I’m taking that shot.”
“I thought, ‘What the hell?’ ” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said.
“As it was leaving his hand, I thought for sure it was going down,’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
That’s the way to lose — the season in your best player’s hands. This was a tough but ultimately limited Heat team. It lacked a consistent scorer or two beside Butler. It’s why their margin of error came down to Butler’s shot.
There are other, more uncertain players in this Hall of Misses. Clarence Weatherspoon is somehow there. In 2000, at the end of their bitter era of rivalry with the New York Knicks, an open Jamal Mashburn passed the ball to Weatherspoon, a Heat role player who missed the season-ending shot.
That’s how you don’t want to lose. You want Marino throwing big, Butler shooting big. Does Vinny Testaverde throwing a fifth interception in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl in the closing seconds at the end-zone line get in there?
The storybook finish is Ray Allen’s 3-pointer in to tie Game 6 in the 2013 NBA Finals that allowed the Heat to win its first title. What’s forgotten is LeBron James clanked a 3-point shot that Chris Bosh rebounded and threw to Allen.
James had a triple-double that night. He also had two turnovers and that wayward 3-point in the final couple of minutes. There was no Bosh to rebound Butler’s miss Sunday night. There was just Spoelstra sitting with a numbed look as midnight struck Sunday on the Heat season.
“Just one of those really, tough moments you can’t prepare for it, you’re not thinking of it, one of the word feelings in the world to address your locker room after a game like this,’ he said. “When it ends, it ends in a thud.”
The Heat didn’t lose because of one shot — even if they could have won because of it. They lost because they missed eight foul shots in Game 7′s first half, after making 24 of 25 in their stunning Game 6 win in Boston.
They lost because they missed nine of their opening 10 shots from 3-point distance in Game 7 and fell behind by 17 points in the first quarter.
At home, in a game for the season, a chance at another NBA Finals, the Heat looked lost at the start and Boston seized control. The Heat did what they had all season, fighting back, giving themselves a chance.
“I thought it would’ve been an incredible storyline, Jimmy pulling up and hitting that three,’ Spoelstra said
Sometimes the storyline is on the other side. Boston goes to play Golden State. Jimmy Butler’s shot goes in our Hall of Misses.