The Boston Celtics return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010 after beating the Miami Heat on the road 100-96 in Game Seven on Sunday night. Jason Tatum led the way with 26 points, and Jaylene Brown and Marcus Smart added 24 points each as the Celtics advanced to play the Golden State Warriors for the championship, starting with Game One Thursday in San Francisco.
The Celtics drove wire to wire, and they responded every time the Heat ran. Miami went in a late round and cut the difference to two points, but Boston managed to hold on to the win. Jimmy Butler did most of the offensive work for Miami, finishing the game with 35 points while playing the entire game. But Butler alone couldn’t accomplish that in the No. 1 ranked Heat.
With Boston winning, Ime Udoka became the first junior coach in NBA history to win a 7-game multiplayer game; Boston beat the Bucks 109-81 in Game 7 earlier in the Eastern Semifinals.
Here are three points from Boston’s win over Miami in Game 7.
1. Tatum and Brown, Smart Oh My Country
Tatum and Brown live for the 7s game. you do not believe me? Here is a statistic that will surprise you. With Sunday night’s win, Tatum has now improved to a record 4-1 in Game 7, while Brown is now a record 5-1 in Game 7. So it’s safe to say these guys shine when the lights are brightest. Tonight was no different, as Brown and Tatum collected 50 points. Get 24 Smart Points and it’s very easy to see why the Celtics won this game. From the opening tip, you can tell that the Celtics wanted to come out strong, and while the Heat gave Boston a panicked last minute of the game, it was the performances of Tatum, Brown and Smart that gave the C team the win. .
It’s the exact kind of performance you want from your key players in a winning or going home contest, and the stars have come out to Boston on the road. But it wasn’t just the scoring that was impressive for the three players. It was Smart and Brown’s defense that Butler not bite his fake pump and limit anyone else’s contributions to The Heat. It was Tatum’s playing craft, a much-improved skill we’ve seen from him this season, that opened up 3s in the corners for Boston. You can see all the improvements these key players have worked on over the years paying off in the biggest game of their careers tonight, and it just so happened to qualify for the NBA Finals.
2. Jimmy vs. Everyone
Butler played the full 48 minutes, and did his best in his performance to try to win. I feel like Butler’s play in the game could potentially be overlooked entirely, but I don’t think there are a lot of players in this league who could do what he did tonight. What’s even crazier, he made her look easy. Butler looked just as agile in the final minutes of the game as he did at the start, and to put the cherry on top of this crazy sundae, he was also dealing with a nagging knee injury.
Butler was a brilliant Game 7. He hit the free-throw line basically whenever he wanted to, as Boston struggled to contain it in the second game in a row. He was looking for bouncing balls and loose balls and playing Jimmy Butler brand basketball all night without a single interruption longer than the timeout.
Unfortunately, Butler’s performance wasn’t enough as he got the minimum assist out of Bam Adebayo’s 25 points. Lowry had 15 points as well, but he really felt like The Butler Show tonight, which is ultimately why the Heat lost the match. That’s not entirely surprising, given that Miami has gradually calmed down over the course of this streak, and when Tyler Herro tries to come back after missing three games and playing only six minutes, you’re really at a disadvantage. Aside from Herro, Max Strus’ suffering continued to pay off as well, and while he defeated a crucial 3-pointer at the end of the match to trim Boston’s lead to just a 2-point lead, he finished the night by going 2-7 on 3-pointers.
3. The Horfords will finally get a title
Horford held the record for most playoff games (141) played without reaching the NBA Finals. But with Boston’s win tonight, that streak has been cut and the veteran striker will have his first chance in the championship. Horford has played in the playoffs 13 times in his 15-year career, and has reached the conference finals three times – once with Atlanta and twice with Boston – before but falling behind each time. But after years of not reaching that point, Horford will have his first and perhaps best shot in the ring.
Although the Celtics will face the Warriors who opened as the favorites to win it all, this isn’t the same Golden State team from a few years ago that were head-to-head embarrassing teams every night. While the Warriors did quick work with the Dallas Mavericks in the West Finals, the Celtics will offer a tougher game with the Warriors in the Finals. Horford will play a crucial role in trying to make life difficult for the Warriors in defense, and if he continues to drop 3 seconds at a high clip as he has throughout the preseason (45.6 percent), he will put Boston in good shape. A spot to try to win the title for the first time since 2008.
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