Celtics reach NBA Finals, hold off Heat 100-96 in Game 7

MIAMI (AP) — Jayson Tatum scored 26 points, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart each added 24, and the Boston Celtics weathered a frantic rally in the closing seconds to beat the Miami Heat 100-96 on Sunday night and reach the Finals NBA for the first time since 2010.

Al Horford added 14 rebounds for the Celtics, who have never lagged on the road to a Game 7 road win – and not counting the bubble, it was the first such win for the storied franchise since beating Milwaukee for the 1974 NBA title.

Next meeting for Boston: the Golden State Warriors in a series that begins Thursday in San Francisco.

Jimmy Butler, who led Miami to Game 7 by scoring 47 points Friday at Boston, led the Heat with 35 points in what became their season finale. Bam Adebayo added 25 for the Heat, who were down 11 with less than 3 minutes to go before attempting one final rally.

A 9-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Max Strus with 51 seconds left, secured the Heat 98-96. They had a chance to take the lead with about 17 seconds left when Butler attempted a 3-pointer from the right wing but missed – and the Celtics escaped.

Boston forced the Heat to nine straight misses in a crucial fourth quarter streak, using that streak to turn an 82-79 lead into a 90-79 lead – and the Celtics, who had lost each of their four last trips to the final East, found a way to hold on.

Kyle Lowry scored 15 for the Heat. Grant Williams finished with 11 for the Celtics.

The Celtics came out flying. The Heat came out opposite the flight.

Boston’s lead was 32-17 after a quarter – the largest ever by a road team after 12 minutes of Game 7, four points larger than Golden State’s lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1977 playoffs.

The Celtics set the tone with defense; they held Miami to 33% shooting in the first quarter, 1 of 7 from 3-point range and outscored the Heat 13-4 on fast breaks.

The lead was still 15 with 2:36 remaining at halftime, when Miami showed signs of life.

An 11-2 run is how the Heat ended the half, the flurry sparked by 3s from Strus and Butler, then capped by four free throws from Lowry in the final 29 seconds. Butler had up to 24 points at the break – he didn’t miss a single second – and Miami was 55-49 before the third.

Miami thought it was within 56-54 when Strus rocked in a corner 3 early in the third. But the Celtics responded with a 9-1 run, which was even worse – the NBA replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey decided Strus was out of bounds, his 3 went off the board while the game was unfolding, and a 56-54 match became 65-52.

TIPS

Celtics: Derrick White had to leave early in the fourth quarter because he was bleeding after being hit in the head by Adebayo under a basket. … The Celtics became the first team to win three road victories against Miami in the same playoff series. The road teams went 5-2 in the Eastern Finals, Boston 3-1 at the Heat’s home court.

Heat: Butler was the second NBA player this season to play every second in a game. The other was Oklahoma City’s Georgios Kalaitzakis, who played all 48 minutes in the Thunder’s 50-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. … Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro returned from a three-game absence with a groin injury but went scoreless in seven minutes.

GAME STORY 7

Boston improved to 26-9 in Game 7. Miami fell to 6-5 in such games and lost for the first time in five Game 7s at home under coach Erik Spoelstra.

DOGS AT HOME

Miami was a 2.5 point underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook, scoring the second time in the last 20 Games 7 – excluding the 2020 bubble restart, when all games were at Walt Disney World – that the home team was not favoured. The other was Houston in the 2018 Western Conference Finals; the injury-plagued Rockets were 6.5-point underdogs and lost to Golden State 101-92.

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