“We’d have to stay confident,” Butler said. “We have to know we are capable of winning, if we start out the right way and if we rebound obviously. But it’s just, I don’t know, shots don’t go in, we foul — that’s never the recipe for success with us. So come Friday, we’ve got to play, like, legit the exact opposite that we played tonight.”
One year after taking the eventual champion Boston Celtics to the brink in the conference finals, the Heat became the first seventh-place team to lose in the brief five-year history of the play-in tournament.
As Butler scanned the box score at the postgame podium, he still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Not only did the Heat get pushed around by a young, hungry team that they’ve handled over the past few years, they got dominated on the boards all night by the Hawks, who outrebounded the Heat 63-39.
“Rebounding was just horrendous,” Butler said. “We didn’t put body on body and they got all the rebounds, all the second-chance points. And that was the game.”
That the Heat were outworked was a common theme inside a quiet Heat locker room. The veteran team looked lethargic early in Tuesday night’s game, falling behind by as many as 24 in the first half, and never recovered.
“There’s probably been a little bit more than a half-dozen times, maybe eight to 10 times, where we have not rebounded where it has just been absolutely crippling, in terms of how it’s hurt us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We definitely have to get to the film and go back to all the fundamentals. We knew coming into this game, this game would be decided [by] ball in the air, ball on the floor, and it certainly was.”
Spoelstra said at one point it was just “a comedy of errors” how many deflections the Heat missed, sometimes with the ball going through their hands, but the group did not make excuses for its slow start or lack of attention to detail on the glass. Spoelstra mentioned it wasn’t a lack of effort, the Heat just couldn’t make the big play or get the big stop when they needed one all night.
“The ball was bouncing their way, literally, the whole game,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “But that’s not any type of excuse to why we couldn’t rebound the ball. They beat the hell out of us on the glass, so it wasn’t even close. So we can point fingers, do whatever — at the end of the day, they beat the hell out of us on the boards, and that’s what it is.”
Butler praised Hawks guard Trae Young‘s performance, especially in light of how well the Heat have defended him in the past. Young finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 36 minutes.
“I don’t think we were as physical as we were supposed to be in making his decisions hard,” Butler said. “He’s a hell of a player. He makes all the right reads. Obviously, he’s a big time shot-maker, and he even got eight rebounds, so I don’t think we took too much away [from] them tonight. They got to the paint, they made 3s, got to the free throw line. It just was an overall bad game.”
It was a game that Young clearly wanted after struggling so much against the Heat. As he finished his postgame news conference and discussed the Hawks’ upcoming matchup with the Celtics, he made reference to a comment Butler made earlier this week in which he stated he believed the Heat would come away with a win.
“Obviously, Boston is a really good team,” Young said. “But I haven’t really looked too far ahead. I mean, obviously I watched them all year. They’ve been playing really well. But I was really focused on tonight and making sure we won. I know Jimmy guaranteed a dub, so I was really focused on making sure that didn’t happen.”
Now the Heat must regroup heading into a must-win play-in game that few would have expected them to be in when the season started. After all the highs and lows the Heat have experienced this season, Spoelstra also expressed optimism his team would rise to the challenge.
“At least we have a lot of experience,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season. Nothing about this season has been easy, so we’re going to do this the hard way. We’re going to get back to work tomorrow, regroup, put our arms around each other, get to the film and get better from this.”