Rival coach blames the Cavaliers for player's season-ending injury

Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

The Miami Heat came into Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Wednesday night looking for a victory. They were without their two-way star center Bam Adebayo, but the Cleveland Cavaliers were coming off of an overtime game in Philadelphia the night before and were without half of their rotation, including All-NBA guard Donovan Mitchell.

It's not that the Cavaliers were guaranteed to lose, but that kind of game is generally referred to as a "schedule loss." The Cavs finished off the 76ers around 10:30 pm ET, had to shower and drive to the airport and fly back for a game that tipped off 21 hours later. The Cavs were always going to be hard-pressed to beat the Heat that night.

Things went about as expected for Cleveland, which fell behind early and never recovered, ultimately losing 129-96. The Cavs picked up the loss, and the Heat got the win they desired. Unfortunately for Miami, however, they also left town with some bad news.

What happened on Wednesday night?

The Miami Heat's latest undrafted gem was 6'3" guard Dru Smith, who had stepped into the rotation given the absence of Tyler Herro. Smith appeared in eight games prior to Wednesday night, shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range and providing reliable minutes for head coach Erik Spoelstra and the Heat.

On Wednesday night, while closing out hard on a Max Strus 3-pointer in the corner, Smith landed out of bounds and his foot slid off the edge of the court. At Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, unlike most NBA arenas, the court is raised several inches higher than the first row of seats (about 10 inches).

That led to Smith's knee being twisted unnaturally as he foot dropped off the court and onto the lower ground beneath, landing on a clipboard that further slid his foot out from under him and put force on his knee. It was reported after the game that Smith had suffered a Grade 3 ACL sprain and would miss the rest of the season.

The Miami Heat were upset

The Heat organization doesn't believe this was an unavoidable accident; they think the court is to blame. Erik Spoelstra told reporters:

"It's a dangerous floor. I don't the history of injuries here but we've had a couple near scares in previous years when guys are closing out in that corner. Thankfully, nobody's been injured before but it's an accident waiting to happen. You close out and all of a sudden you're going off a cliff. It's just so dangerous. As soon as he stayed down, we all knew that's probably what happened;"

Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat head coach

The Athletic's Joe Vardon reported that the Heat had officially petitioned the NBA league office to take action on the court.

This court setup has been in place since 1994, allowing the arena to transition smoothly between the basketball court and the ice beneath, used for hockey, performances and other ice-topped events.

Spoelstra was not the only person to speak up about the court in the aftermath of Smith's injury. LeBron James was asked about the court and told The Athletic "Yes, the league should look at it. They should address it." LeBron's Lakers teammate Austin Reaves said "It's a little scary, to be honest."

Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was asked about the raised court and said "Our guys are comfortable playing here," adding, "We haven’t had any incidents (among Cleveland players) because of how our floor is built.”

It's unclear if the NBA will look into the matter, or if they would pressure or order the Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse to come up with a different solution. Erik Spoelstra was understandably upset about losing a player and about the impact on Smith's career as an unproven, undrafted player. Whether that outrage leads to any action remains to be seen.

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