There were moments Monday night when it seemed possible, that the Heat could pull this off, that it found the resolve that had repeatedly eluded it on the road.
Perhaps you can take that as a positive, that the Heat didn’t fold here, not even after a 36-8 Hornets run that felt all too familiar, not even after Charlotte surged back ahead late, not even with coach Erik Spoelstra feeling compelled to use lineup combinations that had rarely, if ever, shared the floor before.
Perhaps you can take solace in just how close Miami came, with Josh Richardson getting a chance to tie from the corner and, even after that missed, still having a shot at the end if it could have corralled a defensive rebound, with Courtney Lee pulling it down, getting fouled, and essentially finishing the game at the free-throw line.
But the postseason isn’t the time for moral victories, not when every defeat gets you one day closer to elimination. And so, all this series-evening 89-85 loss does is put extreme pressure on the Heat to grab Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday night, by somehow sustaining a strong start rather than going through another midgame meltdown.
Because it takes an elastic imagination to envision the Heat winning a Game 6 here.
It’s not just that Charlotte was 30-11 at Time Warner Cable Arena, third among all teams in the East. It’s that the Heat simply cannot be trusted outside of South Florida. Sure, the Heat has been resilient in the absence of Chris Bosh, whose presence was more missed than usual Monday.
That resilience, however, has largely shown itself at home.
So has the offensive efficiency.
From the All-Star break through the end of the regular season, the Heat was 12-2 (and a plus-11.0 per game) at home and 7-8 (and a minus-0.2 per game) on the road, largely because it shot and scored better at home. Only two of those seven road wins were against playoff teams, Atlanta and Detroit.
That showed in the advanced metrics, too. Miami was an exceptional offensive team in those 14 games, with a 114.7 rating that been better than any team at home (even Golden State, at 114.6) over a full season.
And while that offensive rating wasn’t anemic on the road (103.1 was up from the first half and would have ranked 12th overall over a full season), Miami was prone to prolonged droughts, such as the five-point third-quarter freeze in Boston in the season finale.
In that game, the Heat led 60-34 just before halftime. Then trailed 75-69 with 9:01 left in the fourth. And lost by eight.
In Game 3 of this series, the Heat was down one point with 2:32 left in the second quarter. Then trailed 71-53 with 1:38 left in the third. And lost by 16.
In this one, the opposing run was 36-8.
“We can’t get down because we’re not making shots,” Udonis Haslem said. “We have to rely on our defense. In the playoffs, we’re going to have 100-point games, and we’re going to have to grind out a few games.”
Spoelstra certainly did some grinding. In this game, unlike the one in Boston, he didn’t stand idly by, rigid with his regular rotation. No, the Heat coach experimented plenty, even using Dorell Wright for the first time in meaningful minutes for Miami since 2010. That didn’t deliver much.
Other desperation maneuvers — Haslem to defend Al Jefferson, Gerald Green for some ignitable offense — worked somewhat better. So did sticking with Justise Winslow. After he missed 11 of his first 12 shots in the series, he made three in a row to keep the Heat close.
“It’s a little easier when you get the matchup you want,” Winslow said. “I just feel a little bit more comfortable attacking from the top of the key.”
Close enough that later, the complaints about the officiating — Hassan Whiteside calling these “the flop-offs” while teammates showed reporters social media screen shots of calls that shouldn’t have gone against them — carried more weight than if the Hornets had carried their several-minute blitz to a full-game blowout.
Close even though Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin were combining for 55 points, penetrating the paint whenever they pleased.
Close enough to have chances at the finish, with Dwyane Wade (after battling shoulder trouble and erratic shooting all game) distributing, Joe Johnson making late shots, and Richardson, for all his struggles in these two road games, seeming to have a tying shot lined up.
It didn’t go.
And so the Heat wasn’t close enough.
The Heat goes home.
Into a series.
Into a game it better win.