Erik Spoelstra often discusses embracing the competition, particularly the higher-level moments over the course of the 82-game drudgery of the NBA regular season.
Sunday night against the Brooklyn Nets at FTX Arena was one of the moments for the Miami Heat, exhausted in coming off an eight-day trip but hard up against an opponent that had won 13 of its previous 14.
This in many ways was competition of the Heat’s highest level this season, compelling from start to finish.
But it also was a game played at the finish in the injury absences of Heat center Bam Adebayo and Nets forward Kevin Durant, with Adebayo saying he was dealing with “excruciating” hand pain.
Against that backdrop, the Heat lost a nine-point fourth-quarter lead, battled back into the lead, but then fell short 102-101 on a Nets putback basket with 3.2 seconds to play.
“Our guys really played well,” Spoelstra said. “I really felt we deserved to win the game, just from the energy and the tenor.
“I think we did what we needed to do to win the game.”
On the ensuing and final possession, Heat forward Jimmy Butler went hard to the basket, drew contact, but no foul was called, as time expired.
Spoelstra has one perspective.
“I want to be measured with my words, but I thought Jimmy absolutely made the right play,” Spoelstra said. “I think that earned the right to go to the free-throw line.”
Butler had a different take.
“No,” he said when asked if he thought he was fouled. “I should have made it. It’s part of the game.”
Butler led the Heat with 26 points, supported by 24 from Tyler Herro. Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 29.
The loss dropped the Heat to 21-20 at midseason.
“Now we’ve got to find a way to string some wins together,” point guard Kyle Lowry said.
Five Degrees of Heat from Sunday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Nets closed the first quarter up 31-30, with six points scored in the final 1.6 seconds of the period, first a T.J. Warren 3-pointer for the Nets and then a Gabe Vincent 3-pointer for the Heat that beat the buzzer. Brooklyn then stood up 66-64 at halftime.
The Heat then went into fourth quarter ahead 92-79, pushing their lead to nine early in the period, before the Nets retook the lead with 3;02 to play, eventually going up three.
But with 72 seconds left, Butler scored in transition for a 101-100 Heat lead.
Turnovers followed on both ends, leaving the Heat in possession up one with 34.5 seconds to play.
Butler then was short on a drive, with Nets forward Royce O’Neal scoring on a putback on the other end with 3.2 seconds left for a 102-101 Nets lead.
“I think nine out of 10 times we come up with that rebound,” Spoelstra said. “It was just a crazy circumstance of colliding bodies.”
That set up the game’s final sequence off a pair of Heat timeouts, with Butler missing at the buzzer.
“I wish I had a couple more seconds,” said Butler, who said he then would have passed to an open Victor Oladipo for a jumper.
During the final scramble, Herro went down near midcourt, but said it was because of a wet spot on the floor, and that he was not injured.
2. Too fierce?: Adebayo had arguably the fiercest dunk of his six-season Heat career when he posterized the Nets’ Joe Harris in the second period.
But no sooner did he get to the line for the blocking foul called on Harris then Adebayo started clutching his right hand.
Adebayo was greeted by trainer Wes Brown when he went to the bench shortly thereafter, and then, after missing a third-period dunk, again received attention from Brown.
Adebayo said the hand had previously been bothering him and that it was not injured on the driving dunk. An initial X-ray was negative, with Adebayo’s hand wrapped afterward.
“This is something that’s a couple of days old,” he said.
He said it was among the reasons he closed 0 for 3 from the line.
He was replaced at the finish by rookie center Orlando Robinson.
“I had to own up that I couldn’t shoot the ball,” Adebayo said of sitting out at the end.
Adebayo missed seven weeks last season for surgery on his right thumb.
3. Highsmith’s time: A day after his $1.8 million salary was guaranteed for the season, Haywood Highsmith started at power forward in place of Caleb Martin, who was out for the fourth time in six games due to a quadriceps strain.
The Heat nearly were without their starting power rotation, but Adebayo was able to push through the thigh bruise that had him on the injury report.
Back for the Heat was Herro, who missed Friday night’s road victory over the Phoenix Suns due to back spasms.
Herro remains on call for the impending birth of his second child.
4. Durant departs: Durant, with 17 points at that stage, departed late in the third period after Butler accidently fell into his right knee. Durant was ruled out for the game shortly thereafter.
Durant closed 5 of 11 from the field and 6 of 7 from the foul line.
It actually was Irving who kept the Nets afloat early, up to 24 points by halftime, the second most by a Net in a first half this season to the 28 Durant scored against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night.
An MRI on Durant is planned for Monday.
5. Enjoying the ride: On a more upbeat note, Spoelstra spoke before Sunday’s game about the Dolphins making the playoffs.
“I got to go to a training-camp practice and hang out with them and see their process and then this year’s been all-eventful, it’s been everything,” Spoelstra said. “It’s been fun. It’s been great for the city. And I just enjoy seeing teams come together, particularly when there is adversity and figuring some things out, and then squeezing into the playoffs with a super-low-scoring game.
“It’s been a fun ride.”
The Heat then offered congratulations to the Dolphins on their video screen during the game’s first timeout.