After defeating the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the NBA playoffs to win the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics have set up a final showdown with the Warriors.
After defeating the Heat 100-96 to win 4-3 in a best-of-seven series, the Celtics, coached by American-Nigerian coach Ime Udoka, are back in the finals for the first time since 2010.
The Heat trailed by as many as 17 points at one point in the game, but came back with defensive stops and solid offense to cut the deficit to single digits.
Jimmy Butler, the man on fire who fueled Miami’s surge to Game 7 by scoring 47 points in Boston last week Friday, led the Heat with 35 points in the season finale. For the hosts, Bam Adebayo added 25 points as they rallied from an 11-point deficit with under three minutes remaining.
The Heat pulled within 98-96 thanks to a 9-0 run capped by a three-pointer from Max Strus with 51 seconds left. With around 17 seconds left, they had a chance to take the lead when Butler attempted a three-pointer from the right wing but was unable to convert.
Butler thought his performance wasn’t good enough, despite his great stats.
“I didn’t do my job. Stats don’t mean anything, as I say over and over again. The Celtics came out here to do what they had to do in the series. I’ve learned that I have to be better and I will be better,” frustrated Butler declared.
As Boston clinched its 10th conference title and 22nd participation in the finals, Jayson Tatum, Jayson Brown, and Marcus Smart combined for 74 points. For the Celtics, Tatum had 26 points, Brown and Smart each had 24, and Grant Williams had 11.
During the post-game press conference, Tatum, who won the Eastern Conference finals MVP award, admitted that the club had gotten a lot of criticism from the outside, which motivated them to improve.
“All of those things helped, from saying that we need to split the group up and get rid of somebody or me and JB can’t play together. That fueled us to figure it out and not run from it. Instead of separating, we became closer and I think it’s showing throughout the season,” Tatum stated.
Tatum characterized winning the MVP trophy in the conference finals as a huge honor.
“This is some of our fourth time in the conference finals, my third and to get over the hump with this group, means everything. So I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. The road that we took to get here, tot a lot of people believed in us. We took the toughest route and it worked out.”
The Celtics never trailed en route to a Game 7 victory on the road. The first game of the NBA finals will be played on Thursday, and Coach Udoka’s team appears to be in strong shape to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the title.