"I don't know if I've ever felt this way about a team before," said Spoelstra, after the Heat's season-ending 110-102 win against the Washington Wizards. "I don't know if I've ever wanted something more for a team."
The Heat [41-41] are the only team in NBA history to go from 19 games under .500 to owning an even record at the end of the season. But it didn't control its own destiny Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat needed a Chicago Bulls or Indianapolis Pacers loss to make the postseason, but neither happened. Tears flowed from various players in front of the media and behind the doors of the locker room.
Spoelstra struggled to find the right thing to say in his postgame press conference. The ninth-year coach has now missed the playoffs twice in his career, as well as won two NBA titles.
"When any one of us wanted to get into team sports it was to be around a team like this," Spoelstra said. "We went through so much together in just a few months and really got to know each other. Through everything we've made each other better."
There was no shortage of adversity for the Heat, a team constructed of journeymen and former NBA D-League players. That makeshift roster -- minus Chris Bosh -- and missing its most confident player in Dion Waiters for the most vital stretch of the season, went 30-11 during the second half. It pulled off dramatic wins against the Golden State Warriors, swept the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers at home, and went 2-0 against James Harden's Houston Rockets.
Hassan Whiteside finished the season with 24 points and 18 rebounds. He led the NBA in rebounding during his 2016 campaign.
"It was such an honor to be around a group like this," Spoelstra said. "It really was. I wish I had something for this team to keep this thing going. I think the hardest thing for any of us to wrap our minds around is that we don't have practice tomorrow at 12. It just doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel like the basketball gods shined down on us. I think probably our group wants to be in there, arguably as much as any team in the playoffs. It's just an extremely tough thing to wrap our minds around right now."
"This is a great group and everything that we went through together brought it out," Spoelstra said. "This was the most vulnerable group I've been around and it was basketball, but it really became a family and became a group that really cared and loved each other and we weren't afraid to tell each other that."
Now the Heat turn its focus to the May 16 NBA Draft lottery, instead of planning for a playoff series this weekend on the road.
"It's still full of emotions," Heat guard Goran Dragic said after the game. "We just found out we didn't make the playoffs. You know it's tough. Especially because we know how much hard work we put in, how much we sacrificed for each other. This season was really ups and downs."
"I just said to a couple of guys, this was my favorite team that I've been a part of."