MIAMI — Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka offered that the Celtics “need to take the harder route at times.”
That’s a truth.
After a wasting an opportunity to finish off the Miami Heat at home in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics blew a 17-point second quarter lead and gave the worn-down Heat a glimmer of hope.
This time, the Celtics finished the job, holding off Miami and Jimmy Butler with a 100-96 victory in Game 7 on Sunday.
Jimmy Butler, who was fantastic once again, missed a 3-pointer with 16.6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter that could have given the Heat a 99-98 lead.
Boston’s Jayson Tatum earned the first Larry Bird Trophy, given to the MVP of the East finals. He had 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal in the series finale.
The Celtics continue a remarkable turnaround. On Jan. 6, they were 18-21 and in 11th place in the East.
“We always had glimpses of success,” Udoka said earlier in the series. “We were just trying to be consistent for the most part, understanding that we were really good defensively all along. Offensively trying to get our guys on the same page, get them to understand what we needed from them. That was the goal at that point.
“But we did see good things early on at times. Just up and down, inconsistent a little bit. But we were always optimistic if we got healthy and our defense would carry over, offensively we’d continue to improve.”
Boston advances to the NBA Finals for the 22nd time in franchise history and for the first time since 2010. The Celtics will face the Golden State Warriors and try to win a league-record 18th championship, which would break a tie the Los Angeles Lakers.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals is Thursday in San Francisco (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
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Jimmy Butler keeps it close
Coming off a 47-point effort in Game 6, Jimmy Butler scored 17 of Miami’s first 30 points and 24 of their first 44. Butler scored 18 points in the second quarter as the Heat trimmed a 16-point deficit to 55-49 in the final 3:25 of half.
Butler, who played all 48 minutes, finished with a game-high 35 points – his eighth game with at least 30 points this playoffs, tying LeBron James for most 30-point games by a Heat player in a single postseason. It was remarkable that he had a chance to give the Heat the lead late in the game after the Celtics built a 98-85 lead with 3:35 to play.
Bam Adebayo added 25 points and 11 rebounds, but they didn’t get enough help.
Butler and Adebayo were a combined 25-for-45 from the field but the rest of team was 12-for-43.
The Celtics won three of their four games in this series in Miami, and became the ninth team since 2016 to win a Game 7 on the road (not including the 2020 bubble). They are the first road team to win a Game 7 in the conference finals since Golden State beat Houston in the 2018 West finals.
The home team has won Game 7 76% of the time, but the Celtics skewed that trend.
Boston’s Big 3 produces
Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart combined for 74 of Boston’s 100 points.
Tatum had eight points in the first quarter, Brown nine in the second and Smart nine in the third, and Smart and Tatum combined for 13 of Boston’s 18 points in the fourth quarter.
Celtics defense shines
Boston had the No. 1-rated defense this season, and that was on display in Game 7. The Celtics didn’t force an inordinate number of turnovers or blocked shots, but they held the Heat to 42.2% shooting from the field and 20% on 3-pointers.
They just made scoring difficult, contesting shots.
Injured Tyler Herro rejoins rotation
Heat Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro played in Game 7 after missing the three previous games with a strained left groin.
“He passed his testing with the trainers,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game. “He’s really been working diligently the last few days. Each day he’s made significant improvement, and he was able to do shootaround this morning but more importantly he was able to do things in the training room and pass those tests to be available.”
He checked into the game with 11:37 left in the second quarter, but played just seven minutes and did not score.