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Winderman’s view: A sobering, empty feeling at the end for Heat, but not unexpected

BOSTON — Observations and other notes of interest from Wednesday night’s 118-84 NBA playoff loss to the Boston Celtics:

– So what did we learn about the 2023-24 Heat?

– Not nearly enough.

– If anything.

– Be it because of Jimmy Butler’s indifference to the regular season.

– Or be it because of the injury-depleted state of the roster in the playoffs.

– Yes, there were a few feel-good stories along the way, from the development of Jaime Jaquez Jr. to the emergence of Nikola Jovic.

– But in the end? Only questions.

– And an empty feeling.

– What Boston showed is that no matter the state of this Heat roster, even when healthy, it wasn’t good enough to take down the Celtics.

– Not these Celtics.

– So perhaps better it simply ends, rather than some sort of delusion had the Heat wound up with a more favorable first-round matchup.

– Major work is ahead for Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and the front office.

– And major decisions will have to be made.

– Including:

–  What next with Butler?

– Whether Bam Adebayo is a leading man.

– Whether Tyler Herro is best as a reserve.

– What to make of Terry Rozier.

– And how to handle the free agency of Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith, after punting in a similar situation with the free agency last summer of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent.

– It was a good run.

– Three Eastern Conference finals the previous four seasons.

– But this past week-plus has been sobering.

– Eye-opening.

– And now, mercifully over.

– With Jaquez out in addition to Butler and Rozier, the Heat this time opened with Adebayo, Jovic, Martin, Herro and Delon Wright.

– Wright started one game during the regular season.

– With Wednesday giving the Heat their 37th lineup when factoring both regular season and postseason.

– For their part, the Celtics opened with Al Horford in place of sidelined Kristaps Porzingis.

– Patty Mills and Highsmith entered together first off the Heat bench, with Highsmith called for two early fouls.

– Duncan Robinson followed.

– With Kevin Love making it nine deep in the opening period.

– Of the Heat plane leaving light for Boston in light of the injury absences, Adebayo said, “It is what it is. It’s part of life. It’s part of the NBA. Guys get hurt.”

– That reality hit home moments after Wednesday night’s opening tip.

– Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went in appreciating the gravity of the moment, but also stressing the gravity of almost all playoff moments.

– “The playoffs are hard,” he said at the morning shootaround. “And that’s what the thing is, you just have to always remind yourself. It doesn’t matter 3-1, 3-2, 2-1. It’s all challenging unless you’re in a sweeping position. But you want to embrace it. You want to embrace the challenges of great competition.”

– It was a challenge ultimately overwhelming.

– Spoelstra entered 13-10 coaching elimination games, the fifth-highest all-time winning percentage in such situations, behind only, in order from top, Red Auerbach, Joe Lapchick, Lenny Wilkens and Phil Jackson.

– So now make it 13-11.

– As could be expected, Spoelstra bristled pregame when asked about his team’s injury absences.

– “We’re not talking about winning an 82-game regular season with this group,” he said.

– The Celtics during the pregame showed Butler’s TNT interview from Game 3 when he talked about too much Celtics praise during this series. Butler was not present, but nonetheless was booed.

– Herro extended his streak of games with at least one 3-pointer to 39, dating to the regular season. Herro’s longest such streak is 53 combined regular-season and playoff games, a run that ended March 2, 2021.

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