By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Celtics can finally exhale, as the defending champion Toronto Raptors are officially in their rearview mirror thanks to Friday's 92-87 Game 7 win inside the Orlando bubble.
The Celtics got off to a quick start, scoring 19 of the first 26 points of the evening before the Raptors took advantage of countless Boston misses and held a seven-point edge, at 40-33, with six minutes remaining in the second quarter.
But the Celtics flipped this game back their way from there, and carried a four-point lead into halftime, at 50-46.
Boston's first half was really dictated by their defensive game, as seven steals and three blocks from the C's essentially canceled out a horrific start from deep, with makes on just five of their first 22 looks from deep. Those struggles from beyond the arc were considerably noticeable for the Boston backcourt, with Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker going a combined 2-for-11.
The back-and-forth of this game carried on in third quarter though, and with Toronto cutting their deficit to just one entering the fourth and final quarter of a series that was razor-thin from start to finish.
And the fourth did not disappoint.
In front and looking to simply bleed the clock down to zero, the Celtics' woeful possessions were enough to help bring the Raptors back to life, and made it a one-possession game down the stretch.
And where winning plays, and from more than just Smart and his block on Norman Powell with 58 seconds left, became the name of the game for Brad Stevens' squad.
After Grant Williams missed a pair of free throws, a jump into the fire from Jayson Tatum put the C's back on the free throw line, and extended their lead. And with the Raptors' Fred VanVleet looking to tie things up, it was Williams who provided the in-your-face-but-legal defense necessary to keep the Raps' hottest threat from deep off the board late.
It was a true grind-it-out finish, with the Celtics capturing the victory and moving on in this game despite missing all of their field goals over the final five and a half minutes of the game. (Insanity.)
Tatum led the way for the Green, too, with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists in 44 minutes. The performance made the 22-year-old Tatum the second-youngest player behind Kobe Bryant with 25-plus points, 10-plus rebounds, and five-plus assists in a Game 7.
The C's will now move on to a third-round showing with the Miami Heat.
In what will be their first postseason head-to-head since their 2012 showdown for the East's crown, the Celts will go against a Miami squad led by Jimmy Butler, and with former Celtics Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk among the supporting cast. The Celtics went 2-1 against the Heat during the regular season, with their one loss coming in the Orlando bubble.
This will be Boston's third third-round appearance in the last four years, with Stevens & Co. looking to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time, and for what would be the franchise's first Finals trip since 2010.