A pointless pursuit? Heat acknowledge it’s score or perish as series returns to Boston

BOSTON — The reality is that one end of the court never has been easy for this group, even during some of the best times, even when whole.

A year ago in the NBA Finals, Erik Spoelstra’s team cracked 95 points only once in the five games against the Denver Nuggets, games that were ugly, uglier and ugliest.

Then, this past regular season, even while building a record 10 games above .500, the Heat placed 26th in the 30-team league in scoring, ahead of only the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies — teams that finished a combined 162 games below .500.

So what is transpiring in this best-of-seven opening-round Eastern Conference NBA playoff series against the Boston Celtics not only should not come as a surprise, but, considering the circumstances, should come as expected.

In falling into the 3-1 deficit they will carry into Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. game at TD Garden, the Heat have been held to 84 and 88 points the past two games. Their only game above 94 points came in the Heat’s 111-101 Game 2 victory, when they shot a franchise-record 23 of 43 on 3-pointers.

“I know in my heart,” Spoelstra said, “we have a game. We have a game that’s there. It’s just a matter of the ball going in a few more times, and all of a sudden it ignites and it just keeps on going.”

Such is what is said at moments such as these. Such is what should be said.

But such also, at this juncture, comes off as wishful.

Not only has scoring been an ongoing problem even during the best of times, when there were appearances in the conference finals in three of the previous four seasons, but the challenge arguably never has been more acute.

Beyond the challenge of facing an opponent with Eastern Conference’s best defensive rating during the regular season, what the Heat is missing has largely proven irreplaceable.

Such as:

Jimmy Butler’s team-leading 20.8 scoring average during the regular season, with Butler sidelined by a sprained MCL in his right knee.

Terry Rozier’s 16.4 scoring average since joining the Heat in a January trade from the Charlotte Hornets, with Rozier sidelined by what the team is listing as neck spasms.

Duncan Robinson’s 12.9 points per game from the regular season, with Robinson so limited by a back ailment that he played just 2:52 in Monday night’s 102-88 loss that has the Heat in this 3-1 hole.

— And even Josh Richardson’s 9.9 points per game, with Richardson out since midseason shoulder surgery.

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Remove those 60 points per game and it has become uphill to the point of deficits of 34, 29 and 28 points at stages of each of the three losses.

“We do need to put some points on the board,” Spoelstra acknowledged. “We’re not going to be able to hold this team to 70. I have great confidence in our defense. But holding this team to low 100s is pretty significant the way they can shoot and the way they can stretch you out.”

And, still, has not been enough. Not nearly enough.

“We’ve proven we can win a bunch of different ways,” Spoelstra said. “But I think we have a game. I think we have an offensive game in us. And then continue to defend and compete like this.”

To their credit, Spoelstra’s players have not fallen back on the injuries and absences as a bailout, even when the likes of Delon Wright and Patty Mills have been called upon as fill-ins

“We’ve got to play with confidence,” forward Caleb Martin said. “I feel like we’re getting a couple open looks. It’s also attention to detail with spacing, getting into certain things on that side of the ball that get us easier looks.”

The Heat are now essentially at a point where it’s as much about counting on the system as those available to work that system.

“Keep working our offense, and we got to keep making plays, shooting the ball,” center Bam Adebayo said. “We can live with the result, no matter if it goes in or not.”

Only against a team as elite as the Celtics, it takes more than a system lacking Butler, Rozier, Richardson and an ambulatory Robinson.

“Just keep trying to generate good shots,” guard Tyler Herro said, “watch the film and figure out ways to maneuver and manipulate the defense so that we can score. I feel like we generated some pretty decent looks and we just got to make shots.

“We have to shoot our open shots and be able to match the amount of open shots that they shoot. We’re not going to win shooting a bunch of twos, especially with how many threes they shoot. But just continuing to work for the best looks and then just being ready to shoot.”

And this attempt at resurrection still comes with a bulk of the offense out of the mix.

“This is a very mentally tough team and a team that embraces really tough challenges,” Spoelstra said. “It’s just about going up there and doing whatever we have to do to get that win.”