Celtics-Heat score, takeaway: Boston survives Miami rally, heads to NBA Finals after Game 7 wire-to-wire win

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 7 on Sunday night. Jayson Tatum led the way with 26 points, and Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart added 24 points apiece as the Celtics take on the Golden State Warriors for the championship, starting with Game 1 Thursday in San Francisco.

The Celtics led wire to wire and responded every time the Heat ran. Miami went on a late run and cut the deficit to two runs, but Boston was able to hang on for the win. Jimmy Butler did most of the offensive work for Miami, finishing with 35 points while playing the entire game. But Butler alone couldn’t do it for the No. 1-seeded Heat.

With Boston’s victory, Ime Udoka becomes the first rookie head coach in NBA history to win multiple Game 7s; Boston beat the Bucks 109-81 in Game 7 earlier in the Eastern Semifinals.

Here are three takeaways from Boston’s Game 7 win over Miami.

1. Tatum, and Brown and Smart, oh my

Tatum and Brown live for Game 7. Don’t believe me? Here is a statistic that will blow your mind. With Sunday night’s win, Tatum now improves to a 4-1 record in Game 7, while Brown is now 5-1 in Game 7. So it’s safe to say these guys glow when the lights are brightest. Tonight was no different, as Brown and Tatum combined for 50 points. Add Smart’s 24 points and it’s pretty easy to see why the Celtics won this game. From the first tip, you could tell the Celtics wanted to go aggressive, and while the Heat scared Boston in the closing minutes of the game, it was the performances of Tatum, Brown and Smart that gave the victory at the C. .

It’s the exact type of performance you expect from your key players in a win-or-go home contest, and the stars were out for Boston on the road. But it wasn’t just the scoreline that was impressive from the three players. It was Smart and Brown’s defense of Butler not to bite on his fake pomp and limit contributions from everyone on the Heat. It was Tatum’s play, a much improved skill we’ve seen from him this season, that led to opening 3s in corners for Boston. You could see all the improvements these base guys have worked on over the years pay off in the biggest game of their careers tonight, and it just so happens to have led to a berth in the NBA Finals.

2. Jimmy vs Everyone

Butler played the full 48 minutes and he pulled out all the stops to try and win the Heat. I feel like Butler playing the full game will probably be overlooked, but I don’t think there are many players in this league who could do what he did tonight. What’s even crazier, he made it look easy. Butler looked as sharp in the final minutes of the game as he did at the first tip, and to put the icing on the cake of this crazy sundae he also had to deal with a nagging knee injury.

Butler was masterful in his performance in Game 7. He got to the free throw line basically when he wanted to, as Boston struggled to contain him for the second game in a row. He was hustling for rebounds, loose balls and playing the very Jimmy Butler brand of basketball all night without a single break of more than one timeout.

Unfortunately, Butler’s performance wasn’t enough as he got minimal assist apart from Bam Adebayo’s 25 points. Lowry also scored 15 points, but that really looked like Butler’s show tonight, and that was ultimately the reason the Heat lost the game. It’s not entirely surprising, given that Miami has gradually cooled over this series, and when Tyler Herro tries to come back after missing three games and only playing six minutes, you’re already kind of disadvantage. Herro aside, Max Strus’ shooting struggles also continued, and although he downed a crucial 3-pointer late in the game to cut Boston’s lead to just two points, he finished the night with 2 for 7 on 3 points.

3. Al Horford will finally have a shot at winning a title

Horford held the record for the most playoff games (141) played without reaching the NBA Finals. But with Boston’s win tonight, that streak has been snapped and the veteran forward will have his first chance at a championship. Horford made the playoffs 13 times in his 15-year career and reached the conference finals three times — once with Atlanta and twice with Boston — before that, but fell short each time. But after years of not reaching that point, Horford will have his first, and perhaps best, shot in a ring.

Although the Celtics will face the Warriors who open as favorites to win it all, it’s not the same Golden State team from a few years ago that were downright embarrassing teams every night. While the Warriors quickly eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Finals, the Celtics will present a much tougher game for the Warriors in the Finals. Horford will play a crucial role in trying to make life difficult for the Warriors on defense, and if he continues to down 3 at a high like he has been throughout the postseason (45.6%), then that will put Boston in a good place to try to win a title for the first time since 2008.


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