The Miami Heat’s competitive loss against the Boston Celtics on Sunday can strangely be considered both a moral victory and a moment of crisis.
Although the Heat lost, 110-106, it was much more competitive than the 33-point loss on Jan. 25. Miami was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak during the first matchup but had entered Sunday having won four of its last five.
In a game that came down to the final minutes, the Heat would not have been so competitive against the NBA’s top record holder if not for Terry Rozier’s contributions in the first half.
Rozier had 11 points and five assists by halftime. He was putting pressure on Boston’s defense, snaking through the Celtics’ long defenders and composing Miami’s 3-point shot selection.
Then in the third quarter, Rozier went up for a layup and landed awkwardly on his right leg after getting fouled near the rim. Rozier crumpled to the court and grabbed at his right leg. Heat coaches, players and trainers rushed to surround Rozier as he remained on the court writhing with pain.
Rozier gingerly walked to the locker room with the assistance of Heat trainers. He was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a knee injury. He will undergo an MRI on Monday.
This happened after Josh Richardson had exited the game with a dislocated shoulder that he sustained in the second quarter. Richardson, who also left the game and did not return, will undergo an MRI on Monday.
Missing Rozier and Richardson for an extended stretch will force changes to Miami’s rotation and strategy.
Rozier has started the last eight games for the Heat and was averaging 30.5 minutes per game before exiting Sunday’s game early. Richardson has appeared in 43 games this season, is averaging 25.7 minutes per game and has been one of Spoelstra’s top options for his closing lineups.
Had it been just Rozier who got injured, it still would have hurt but the replacement would have been straightforward with Richardson sliding into the starting lineup. Had it just been Richardson, the Heat could have cobbled together lineups with enough ball-handling by staggering Rozier and Tyler Herro.
But with Rozier and Richardson both sidelined – and Dru Smith out for the season with a knee injury – the Heat are dangerously thin on ball-handlers.
The only healthy traditional guards on the roster are Herro and Alondes Williams, who signed a two-way contract with the Heat over the weekend.
The Heat could look to free agency to add some depth but the options aren’t very compelling. Among guards who have been bought out or are expected to be bought out after the trade deadline include Killian Hayes, Cory Joseph, James Bouknight, Jordan Goodwin, Frank Ntilikina and Ish Smith.
None of those players will replace Rozier’s skillset. Since being acquired for Kyle Lowry and a first-round pick, Rozier had been finding his groove with the Heat, making the timing of this injury all the more devastating.
If there’s anything fortunate about the timing, it’s that it comes a week before the All-Star break, buying some time for Rozier to recover without having to miss games.
But the Heat need Rozier for the playoff push and will have to figure out how to win games without him in the near term, with games in Milwaukee and Philadelphia on Tuesday and Wednesday, and likely on the other side of the All-Star break as well.
The Heat entered Monday 1.5 games behind the Pacers for the No. 6 seed in the East and could be in danger of falling further entrenched in the play-in tournament for the second straight season.
Rozier had become a source of offense and relief for Miami’s top players, but it will be back on Jimmy Butler, Herro and Bam Adebayo to guide the Heat through another tough stretch of injuries.