For the Heat, honorable defeat and an ocean of uncertainty

The Miami Heat died honorably on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat pushed up the hill as long as they could. Having trailed by 17 points midway through the third quarter, they sliced their deficit to six in the early stages of the fourth quarter. They were right there, somehow given a reasonable chance to prolong their season with 11 minutes remaining in regulation.

Then, however, the House of Pat Riley fell down.

The Raptors flexed their muscles and gave this series some consistent excellence after all the stumbles which had marked the previous six and a half games.

Their size against the Heat’s smaller lineup finally emerged on loose balls in the paint:

Kyle Lowry took over, and when he wasn’t gunning down the Heat, his teammates found the range:

A series which had been so consistently close through five games loosened up in Game 6, and the Raptors blew Game 7 wide open in the final 11 minutes. Unable to get any production of consequence from the backup big men on their roster, Josh McRoberts and Amare Stoudemire, the Heat had to go small, but couldn’t dictate the style of Game 7 at the offensive end of the floor. They had no place to go if Goran Dragic wasn’t setting the tone. In this core respect, Miami’s road Game 7 became the opposite of its home-court Game 7 curb-stomping of the Charlotte Hornets two Sundays earlier.

With no Chris Bosh and no Hassan Whiteside, the Heat didn’t figure to be able to advance past Toronto. Miami wanted this series, but its opponent needed it… and got it. In the end, there cannot be any shame for the Heat. Moreover, the development of Whiteside this season alongside rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson undeniably gives this franchise the awareness that it can build upon a new foundation. The Heat’s combination of management and coaching — knitted together by evident skill in the realm of player development — will enable this organization to remain a factor in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

As the offseason arrives, though, no degree of satisfaction derived from an honorable playoff exit can mask the undercurrent of sorrow which attended the Heat’s 2016 season.

It’s not something which has become official, but it is a cloud which will continue to hang over the organization: As much as Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade fervently hope it won’t happen, and as much as Heat fans might pray that something can be done about the matter, Chris Bosh might retire before playing another minute of NBA basketball.

The Heat are not ignorant of this possibility and how real it is. To be much more precise, the Heat acted quite responsibly in handling Bosh’s situation over the past few months.

Typically, a professional sports organization (especially in the NFL) tries to rush the player back into action, despite concerns about long-term holistic wellness. In this case, the player and his spouse (Adrienne Bosh) sought a return to the court, and the team urged caution. The Heat didn’t merely stand in the way of what would have been not just a feel-good story; by preventing Bosh from playing, they halted a development which (at least conceivably, had Bosh not suffered further negative effects) could have altered the very outcome of this just-completed series against Bosh’s old team, the Raptors.

Yes, it’s sad beyond words. Yes, the idea of Chris Bosh never playing again leaves the heart with an empty feeling. Yet, Bosh — articulate and talented in ways which transcend basketball — can live a full and satisfying life without donning a Heat uniform ever again. His long-term health is what matters most, and after failing to make it through this season without any health problems, one year removed from the blood clots which almost killed him (thank Adam Silver for creating the extended All-Star break — that expanded period of time enabled Bosh to get a checkup, upon which the clots were discovered in February of 2015), it would be patently foolish to think that Bosh is likely to continue his NBA journey as a player. He provided meaningful coaching and guidance to his teammates in a shirt and jacket during the playoffs, but the odds of him playing another full season in the league are — if not remote — certainly not better than 50-50.

All of it is uncomfortable. Much of it is depressing. Yet, reality must be acknowledged sooner rather than later. The Heat have so much going for them as a franchise, given the progress of their youngest core-rotation players. Yet, Miami must confront the very realistic possibility that Chris Bosh — the man whose offensive rebound in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals saved a season and paved the path to a repeat championship — won’t play another game.

Until the Heat formulate and then execute their response to that issue — something we might not be able to know until the 2016-2017 season begins, or perhaps not until the 2017 trade deadline — pegging the future of this franchise will remain premature, at least in its finer points and details.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |