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The Miami Heat got some bad news en route to losing Game 7 on Sunday.
That Max Strus 3-pointer that cut their deficit to 56-54 early on the third quarter? It didn't count. In a 100-96 Boston Celtics win that came down to the wire, those three points loomed large in the end.
Strus 3-pointer counts ... and then it doesn't
Nearly three minutes of game time after Miami registered three points early in the second half, the NBA took them off the board. League officials reviewed the Strus bucket and determined that he stepped out of bounds prior to launching a corner 3 with 11:03 left in the third quarter.
Strus took a pass from Kyle Lowry on the wing, pump-faked Robert Williams and stepped back and to the side for a 3-pointer from the left corner. The ball rattled in to reduce Miami's deficit to two points as the Heat continued to cut into a Celtics lead that had reached 16 points in the second quarter. Or so the Heat thought.
With 8:28 left in the third, the Heat's public address announcer said officials had negated the basket. What was previously a 65-57 Celtics lead increased to 65-54. Replay showed that Strus appeared to step out of bounds with his left heel before shooting.
Heat fans were displeased on multiple fronts. First, why were officials reviewing a play and taking points off the board nearly three minutes later? Second, they weren't convinced that Strus actually stepped out of bounds — or that video evidence was clear enough to negate a bucket.
Erik Spoelstra 'in shock' over reversal
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after the game that he was "in shock" over the league's decision to negate Strus' basket.
"I was in shock," Spoelstra said. "The fact that it happened 3-4, five minutes in game time — that does change the context of how you’re playing. We were starting to gain some momentum.
“You feel like it’s a seven, eight-point game and you look up and it’s a 13-point game, and there’s no other explanation for it other than, it’s gone back to the league offices. You feel like if it happens like that, it should happen immediately and you can adjust accordingly.”
Spoelstra added the the call from the NBA's Secaucus, New Jersey replay headquarters was "not the reason we lost." He believes that the league will look at the call as a "case study" for how to handle similar calls moving forward.
“I‘m sure they will look at that, and we’ll probably be the case study for it," Spoelstra continued. "I’m OK if it happens the way it used to. They would look at it at the next foul or break, and look at it and notice it. But it was probably ten minutes of real time."
These reviews happen
Officials circle back to review 3-pointers all time when there's a break in the action. That's what happened here. The decision is usually to determine whether a basket was an actual 3-pointer or if a player toed the 3-point line for two points. In this instance, the decision was whether the bucket should have counted at all. That it happened in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals magnified the situation.
Did officials get things right?
Arguing that Strus didn't step out of bounds requires some Heat-colored lenses. But in a postseason that's been plagued by an endless parade of replay reviews that range from inane to legitimately controversial, NBA officials don't elicit the benefit of the doubt. Any perception that they're impacting the outcome of a game isn't going to go fly with fans. Heat fans aren't likely to let this one go.