By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) — Jimmy Butler followed up one amazing performance with another.
It just wasn’t enough for the Miami Heat.
The last shot of Butler’s season was a 3-pointer that missed — and in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, that’s the way most of the shots from deep went for the Heat. Miami went 6 for 30 from long range on Sunday night, one of the big factors in their season-ending 100-96 loss to the Boston Celtics.
“When it ends, it ends in a thud,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I just have so much incredible respect and love for everybody in the locker room and what everybody gave to this team. It’s such a memorable season and postseason.”
Butler was brilliant — 47 points in Game 6 to extend the season, 35 points in Game 7 to give the Heat a chance at getting to an NBA Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors. He played every second of the finale.
“You can put him in that category of superstars,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “To me, he’s one of the best two-way guys in the league, hands down.”
This is how good Butler was: On a rough shooting night for the Heat, they still had a chance.
When the Heat made 3s at home this season, it was game over: Miami was 25-1 when shooting at least 37% from deep. When the Heat didn’t shoot that well, they went 11-14.
They were the epitome of how it’s truly a make-or-miss league. And if Butler had gotten one more 3 to fall — for the record, the Heat had no problem with his shot selection when he tried what would have been a go-ahead 3 with about 17 seconds left — they might have been headed to the NBA Finals.
“I thought it’d have been an incredible storyline, Jimmy to pull up and hit that 3,” Spoelstra said. “I love that about Jimmy. That was the right look. As it was leaving his hand, I thought for sure that was going down. Good, clean look. It was definitely better than anything we could have designed. It’s just a shame that it didn’t end that way.”
Butler averaged 27.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in the playoffs. His assessment of those numbers: “Not good enough.”
“I learned that I have to be better,” Butler said. “And I will be better. Back to the lab.”
It was the third time that a top-seeded Miami team was ousted at home in an ultimate game.
There was the Allan Houston shot with a second to go in 1999 that gave the eighth-seeded New York Knicks a 78-77 win in Game 5 of a best-of-five opening round series. In 2005, the Heat led Detroit in Game 7 of the East finals with 90 seconds remaining before getting outscored 10-3 the rest of the way and losing 88-82.
And now, add a loss to the Celtics to that list.
“This was all about competition,” Spoelstra said. “We faced a team that kind of matches all the best qualities of what we do.”
There was also an injury factor. The majority of the key pieces in the Heat rotation — Butler, Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, Max Strus, Tyler Herro primarily among them — were all dealing with various problems in the season’s final weeks, some of those issues particularly pronounced during the East finals. Tucker didn’t finish Game 7 because of injury.
“I will never make any excuse about injuries,” Lowry said. “Ever.”
The Heat even took great pains to point out that Boston was also dealing with ailments — which is absolutely correct. Regardless of which team lost Game 7, it was going to be reasonable for that side to wonder “what if?” on the health front and lament that injuries played a big role in their falling short of making the title round.
“One thing I love about this team, we fought through adversity this whole year,” Adebayo said.
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