The Boston Celtics held off a late Miami Heat charge for a 100-96 Game 7 victory to win the Eastern Conference Finals and go to the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years.
Let that sink in, Boston fans.
Take a nice, deep breath.
Now, try to let go of the other stuff. The fourth quarter Miami run that pinched Boston’s 13-point cushion all the way down to two. The sight of an adrenalized Jimmy Butler loading up for the heart punch. A near-48 minute Maalox moment of a contest where Kyle Lowry tried every trick in the book to grift a win.
Another breath. It’s happening.
Something had to give. The Celtics were unbeaten (5-0) following a playoff loss this year, while the Heat franchise had been undefeated (4-0) in Game 7 matchups during Erik Spoelstra’s 14 seasons as head coach.
Neither number could predict the Sunday night slugfest to come, as Boston’s early execution helped them keep the Heat at arm’s length for most of the game. But the home team just wouldn’t go away. A Max Strus triple got the Heat to within two with 50 seconds remaining, before their chance at a go-ahead bucket – a Jimmy Butler three – fell short with 16 seconds left. It was academic from there.
Series MVP Jayson Tatum scored 26 points, ripped down 10 rebounds and handed out six assists, while Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart combined for 48 points, 15 rebounds and 11 dimes in the win. Al Horford pulled down 14 boards. The Celtics again held the Heat to less than 100 points for the third time in four games.
The Heat were led by – who else – Butler’s 35 points and nine rebounds. Bam Adebayo tallied 25 points and 11 boards.
Miami thought they had trimmed Boston’s early 15-point advantage down to two on a Strus three-pointer less than a minute into the third quarter. But the basket was wiped when it was found Strus stepped out of bounds. Boston then pushed the lead back to 14 (with two huge Marcus Smart threes), and the Heat – despite various Lowry flops – were unable to get closer than seven, with the Green carrying an 82-75 lead into the fourth.
Jimmy Butler poured in 18 second quarter points and the Heat attempted 19 free throws in the frame to drag an early deficit down to six at the half, 55-49.
Boston opened up a double-digit first quarter lead on a Grant Williams transition layup and free throw. The Celtics moved the ball early and had 13 first break points in the opening 12 minutes. Some outstanding Boston defense pushed the lead as high as 15, but a gritty Miami run (including a 4-point play for Gabe Vincent) cut it to seven. The C’s responded with an 8-0 run to exit the first quarter with a 32-17 lead.
The Boston win snaps a five-game franchise losing streak with a trip to the Finals on the line.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals is Thursday at 9:00 p.m. on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.