There was a time when the Miami Heat was relaxed, confident, with just enough relaxation to breathe and savor.
It was Sunday when coach Erik Spoelstra and players Max Strauss and Victor Oladipo met with the media in a ballroom at a swank hotel opposite the Boston Common.
All this happening simultaneously, the franchise’s sixth foray into the NBA Finals was just two wins away.
Now, summer has a night to keep it from cracking.
And then, if that is achieved, another such night will be needed.
From the start of these Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, and even the beginning of these playoffs, Spoelstra insisted that the postseason is one of several acts, a few games, or series that came first.
There is no greater proof than that in the last four days since that quiet Sunday.
First, the Heat ended early Monday night in Game 4 at TD Garden, going 18-1 at the start. Then they finished in Wednesday night’s Game 5, unable to hold it together from the end of the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth, this time as a 24-2 Boston run robbed everyone.
But there was also a common element to those two heat losses: an opponent needed to be at their best to defend the Celtics, and to be absolutely on-the-go.
The Heat limp in Game 6 at 8:30 p.m. Friday on the Celtics’ home court, dealing with both of those realities, needing to find answers to force a decisive Game 7 Sunday at the FTX Arena.
When center Robert Williams III is available to defend Boston, the Celtics can be impenetrable. He has played the last two matches.
And Kyle Lowry, with his balky hamstrings, and Jimmy Butler, with his knee pain, have hardly been upward mobile in the last two. Lowry is 5th out of 23 this series, with a hamstring problem he’s had since round one. Butler has attempted only six of the last three, having shot 26 free throws in the first two games of the series.
Then there’s the groin strain that has kept sixth player Tyler Harrow out of the last two games.
“As depressing and depressing as this game can be,” Spoelstra said, “we go to Boston and just come together.”
So now, a proud face, even though a knee (Butler), hamstring (Lori) and groin (Hero) are not necessary.
“We are still alive,” said Spoelstra. “We have the opportunity to play in front of a huge crowd and create a memory that you will remember for a long time. That’s what we’re thinking right now.
“And we have the kind of warriors who are going to tape, brace up, do whatever we have to do to get ready for the next one and just hug and enjoy that competition.”
The tone was decidedly different on Sundays in that hotel ballroom, when it came to rejuvenation.
Now it is of existence.
“We’re not making excuses for any kind of health or anything of that sort,” Spoelstra said. “We’re just going to figure it out and get there in Boston and enjoy that competition.”
To make the best of their walking ability.
“No matter what position we are in, I have to play better,” Lowry admitted. “I’m playing terrible. It’s what it is. I’m out, so I have to do better.”
The word was similar to butler.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said of his knee. “If I’m out there, I have to do better. I have to find a way to help us win, and I’m not doing that. I’m fine. My knee is fine. I just have to do better.” This is no excuse.
“We have to go into an adversarial environment and it will be escalated, but I like what our team can do,” Butler said. “I like the opportunity that we have, and we have to go out there and fight. It has to start this next game in Boston. But I think we know we can win.”
Kendra Bam Adebayo said that there is no room for excuses because there is no time for excuses.
“Got to adapt,” he said. “In my opinion, I think everyone is hurt at this time of year. We’re all bumped up and hurt. We’re still lining up. There’s still these games to play. We still want to win.” “