Miami Heat beat Boston Celtics in Game 7 to advance to NBA Finals

The Miami Heat stunned the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night, ending their rollercoaster streak breathlessly to a best-of-seven game in Game 7 103-84, extending their remarkable postseason streak.

“I had so much faith in myself and in this group of guys,” said Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who was named MVP of the series. In the seventh game, he scored 28 points.

The Heat, whose reemergence as the East’s No. 1 8th, looks to have surprised everyone but them, and will play the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals starting Thursday. Nuggets secure your first trip to the championship round after beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals a week ago. The Heat are only the second eighth seed after the 1998-1999 Knicks to reach the NBA Finals in the current playoff format.

Not that it was easy. “Sometimes you have to suffer for what you really want,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said during the post-game trophy presentation.

After the Heat won the first three games of the series, the Celtics regained their momentum and won the next three to take their seventh and decisive game at home. Boston was in contention to become the first team to win an NBA playoff series after losing 3-0. But Miami avoided becoming a historical footnote/highlight by sinking into the bottomless well of its persistence.

Even when the Heat struggled in the regular season, losing almost as often as they won, Spoelstra stuck to his approach.

Spoelstra said that he thought the Heat could improve if they continued to focus on their daily work. There was nothing particularly sexy about it – meeting after disappointing defeats, watching movies, hard training.

“It’s an enjoyable experience,” Spoelstra said earlier in the series, “especially when you lose games and get criticized for it. But you can still just come together and try to make things right.”

The heat continued for about six months without getting the proper result. But over the past six weeks, they have unleashed all their promise and potential to play in the NBA Finals once more. This is the franchise’s seventh season in 35 seasons and the second in four years.

“The ups and downs have prepared us for these moments,” Heat All-Star center Bam Adebayo said during the series as the Heat went about their business of outliving the Celtics.

The Heat won the first two games of the series in Boston and then crushed the Celtics in Miami in Game 3. Spoelstra said “a lot of pent-up stuff” fueled his team, but declined to elaborate.

His players were more open: they recalled how dropped out of the Celtics in the Conference Finals last season, which was a particularly disappointing exit as the Heat were the East’s top seed and the streak was seven games long.

Heat almost broke this time. Before Game 7, the Celtics were entertaining dreams playback Dramatic comeback Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series as they made baseball history by coming back from a 3-0 series deficit and eliminating the Yankees. The Red Sox then beat St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to win their first championship since 1918.

But Miami was too determined and too tough, finding beauty in the fight. Butler, the team’s talented two-way forward, imposed his will at the start of the series, while Adebayo was a defensive threat. But their supporting cast mattered.

Caleb Martin, the small forward who started in Games 6 and 7, was the Heat’s most consistent player throughout the series. He scored 26 points in Game 7 and made 11 of 16 shots, including four three-pointers. Gabe Vincent, the team’s starting point guard, played the last two games with a sprained ankle. And Duncan Robinson came off the bench and hit a three-pointer just in time.

On Monday, in front of a hostile crowd that was in a fever during the introduction of the players, the Heat seemed intent on drowning out the noise, relying on their protection. The Celtics missed all 10 of their 3-point attempts in the first quarter; in the second quarter, the Heat led by as much as 17 points.

Boston got ahead of Miami when Martin got back to work, ending the third quarter with a roundhouse jump. He opened the fourth quarter with his fourth 3-pointer of the game, and the Heat’s lead returned to 13.

Earlier in the series, Adebayo was asked about the key to the team’s success.

“I believe,” he said. “Believe in each other. Believing we can win. Assuming we can beat the No. 1. 1 team in the league. You know, faith is real and we have the will to win.”

The Heat did beat the No. 1. 1 ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the league’s best regular season record, in the first round of the playoffs. They swept the No. 5 Knicks in six games in the second round to end the streak with Boston.

The Celtics hoped to make the playoffs again after lost to Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals last season. But obstacles, both predictable and unexpected — prevented them even before they got together for preseason.

Find the list was sudden absence of Ime Udoki, who, as the head coach of the Celtics last season, left his mark on the team in defense. But in September, less than a week before training camp, the Celtics suspended him for a season for “violating team policy.” Two people briefed on the matter, not authorized to speak publicly about it, said that Udoka had a relationship with a female subordinate.

The whole situation cast a nasty shadow on the Celtics as they looked to focus on the upcoming season. “It was hell,” said Markus Smart, the team’s starting point guard and last season’s top defenseman, at the time.

Instead of going outside the organization and hiring an experienced coach as Udoka’s replacement, the team prioritized succession by temporarily promoting Joe Mazzulla, who was an assistant on Udoka’s staff.

Mazzulla, 34, whose previous head coaching experience was only at Fairmont State, a Division II program in West Virginia, unexpectedly found himself at the head of an NBA team looking to win a championship. It was a gamble that seemed to pay off in time for the All-Star break, when Boston had the best record in the league. Celtics named Mazzulla as his permanent head coach in February and officially broke off relations with Udoka, whom Houston Rockets named head coach last month.

But Boston fell sharply in the final weeks of the regular season, dropping to first place. 2nd seed in the East behind Milwaukee and it took him six games to eliminate the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. (The series dragged on so unexpectedly that Janet Jackson had to postpone her concert in Atlanta. Jason Tatum from Boston publicly apologized to her.)

The pressure on Mazzulla and on the team’s two stars, Tatum and Jaylen Brown, only intensified during the Celtics’ conference semifinal game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Tatum and Brown were inconsistent as the streak stretched to seven games. Mazzulla has been extensively scrutinized for his line-up and appearance choices. aversion to timeouts in critical situations.

“Joe learns like the rest of us,” Smart said during the series. “I know that he was killed a lot, and rightly so.”

But after Tatum scored 51 series of decisive forces against the 76ers, the Celtics faced the Heat, a savvy and experienced opponent, with payback in mind.

The Heat have come a long and hard road just to reach the conference finals. They needed to defeat the Chicago Bulls in a playoff game to qualify for the playoffs. They lost two rotation players, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, to injuries in the first-round series with the Bucks.

But the Heat weren’t about to give up against the Celtics—not after a season of growth under Spoelstra, not after Butler instilled confidence in his under-sung teammates, not against an opponent who killed Miami’s championship dream a year ago.

“We go out there and play basketball and play basketball properly,” Butler said, “knowing we always have a chance.”