The little team that could in Game 6 just couldn’t survive its lack of size anymore.
So, there will be no reunion with LeBron James in Cleveland on Tuesday, no shot at revenge, and a summer full of questions ahead.
The Heat’s season, wrought with injuries and hurdles, finally ended Sunday afternoon with a 116-89 Game 7 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Center.
Despite the blowout loss, it’s hard to feel like the Heat underachieved. After all, it lost Chris Bosh at the All-Star break for the second year in a row and then center Hassan Whiteside, who finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, to a sprained MCL last week and still managed to push the No. 2-seeded team in the East to the final game of the conference semifinals.
“Yeah we did,” Dwyane Wade said when asked if the Heat maxed out their potential this season. “Getting to the Eastern Conference Finals was our goal. Goran [Dragic] and I have been together for a year and a half now, and we’ve been snake-bitten a little bit.
“All you want is a chance. With what we had, we fought tooth and nails to try and get to that goal of getting to the Eastern Conference finals. Unfortunately, we fell one game short.”
Wade, one of eight players on the team who is not under contract next season, had 16 points (6-of-13 shooting), four rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. But he had nothing magical up his sleeve in the fourth quarter to save his team.
Neither did Dragic, who also finished with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan put on a show, scoring 35 and 28 points, respectively. When they weren’t draining jumpers, they were going to the free-throw line.
Toronto went to the free-throw line 43 times — 15 more than its previous series high in Game 3.
But it was really the lack of size that ultimately doomed the Heat.
After gutting their way to a 103-91 victory at home in Game 6 with a center-less lineup for all but 19 minutes Friday night, Miami was dominated on the boards Sunday, and the lack of size was evident.
Toronto grabbed 20 offensive rebounds — the fifth-most ever in a playoff game — and beat Miami on the glass 50 to 30.
Raptors center Bismack Biyombo finished with 17 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks.
“It wasn’t as tough,” Joe Johnson said of having to play small-ball again in Game 7. “They just made shots offensively. They did crash the glass. But for the most part it was just Lowry and DeRozan making a lot of tough shots.
“We fought man. We fought with what we had, and we did what we could.”
And still, Toronto only had an eight-point lead heading to the fourth quarter. That’s when the Raptors blew by Miami, ending the Heat’s string of four consecutive Game 7 victories and dropping Miami to 0-2 all-time when it plays Game 7 on the road.
“I thought once we got it to six at the end of the third, I thought we had a chance,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our young guys gave us a boost of energy. We got within six when Tyler [Johnson] hit that three. But Toronto kept on coming. They wore us down.
“We’re not making any excuses. Toronto beat us fair and square. Give them credit. Players on both teams were playing through injuries. It’s unfortunate people thought this was maybe not the most elegant series. But it was one of the more competitive series.
“If you’re a true basketball enthusiast, you can find joy in a true grind like this.”
Luol Deng, who had combined to score six points on 1-of-13 shooting in Games 5 and 6, led the Heat with eight points in the first quarter but continued to struggle from behind the three-point line. He finished with 12 points and was 4 of 18 from three-point range in the series.
The Heat twice took a one-point lead in the first half, but it lasted all of a combined 39 seconds. Tyler Johnson gave the Heat its first lead at 24-23 when he stole the ball from Terrence Ross and passed ahead to Dragic for a layup with 27 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
But 21 seconds later, DeRozan hit a floater in the lane.
Miami, which trailed by as many as seven points in the second quarter, then took a 37-36 with 5:41 to go in the half when Joe Johnson went on a personal 6-0 run with an array of floaters in the lane. Toronto took the lead back 18 seconds later when DeRozan drove to the basket, drew a foul on Josh Richardson and hit a pair of free throws.
In the end, the Raptors were just too much.
Now, the Heat heads into the summer looking to figure out a way to keep Whiteside, Wade, Deng and add to its roster with only $40 million in salary-cap space.
“I would go into battle with these guys any time,” said Dragic, who along with Bosh, Richardson, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Briante Weber are either under contract for next season or have team-favorable options.
“They’ve proven they’re warriors. They don’t back off. But this is the business of basketball. You never know who’s gonna be here next season. This is not my decision. We had good moments and bad moments, but we always come through with good attitudes and work ethic, and the team was close. It was together for the whole season.”