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

MIAMI — More than four months after a remarkable turnaround, the Celtics seem determined to keep going. Behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the team’s two young stars, Boston is on its way to the NBA Finals after beating the Miami Heat 100-96 in a deciding Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday.

Boston won the series 4-3 and will face Golden State in the NBA Finals, which opens Thursday in San Francisco. Tatum was named the Eastern Conference Finals Most Valuable Player, another honor this season. The trophy is named after Celtics icon Larry Bird.

Trying to resuscitate a dynasty that had taken a hiatus, the Warriors aim for their fourth championship in eight seasons. Golden State, the third seed in the Western Conference, will have a home field advantage over Boston, a second seed, as it had a better regular season record, winning 53 games against Boston’s 51.

The Celtics won their last title in 2008, when many of the top players on this year’s roster were elementary school students.

Boston opened Game 7 with a 9-1 run and Miami spent the rest of the game trying to catch up. After a quarter, the Celtics led by 15 points and Miami had 17 points, including 6 by Jimmy Butler. When the Heat pulled out, it was largely due to Butler. He scored 18 points in the second quarter and helped the Heat narrow the lead to just 6 at halftime. But the Heat’s comeback attempt was not enough.

Under Ime Udoka, their freshman coach, the Celtics have already come up with a comeback story to remember. It wasn’t until the end of January that they knew how to defend, share the ball and win with any semblance of consistency.

In the postseason, the Celtics knocked out a medley of NBA stars and potential contenders: the Nets, led by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, in the first round; the reigning champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the conference semifinals; and, now, the top seeded Heat, who withered under the pressure of the Celtics.

All this after the Celtics filled the first few months of the regular season with the most unsavory basketball on the East Coast. Forget competing for a championship: could they even make the playoffs? They appeared in a rigorous chase from the bottom.

The Celtics started going deep early in November when a loss to the Chicago Bulls reduced their record to 2-5 and point guard Marcus Smart used his platform after the game to tear up Tatum and Brown as they lost the ball. were holding.

In mid-January, they lost to Philadelphia at 21-22, and Joel Embiid, the star center of the 76ers, described Boston as an “iso-heavy team” that was easy to defend.

Even some of Udoka’s oldest friends wondered if he could unlock the team’s potential. Kendrick Williams, a youth coach who helped Udoka build an Amateur Athletic Union team in 2006, when Udoka was still patrolling the NBA fields as a power forward, recalls contacting him via text message when the Celtics were struggling. had.

“And he said, ‘Man, you know I’m not going to panic. You know we’re going to do well,” Williams said. “He was so confident, it put me at ease.”

From the start of the training camp – and even during his introductory press conference last summer – Udoka emphasized the importance of ball movement. It remained a staple of his filming sessions as the Celtics dealt with growing pains, and it was a message that eventually took root.

Before the Celtics faced the 76ers again in mid-February, Udoka reminded his players of Embiid’s comments. The Celtics went out and defeated Philadelphia by 48 points for their ninth straight win.

“You can literally see the improvement in ball movement,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said at the time. “Old Boston is more iso. This Boston rides and plays with each other, and that makes them so much harder.”

But that was only part of the Celtics’ winning formula. Led by Smart, who won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, the Celtics emerged as a relentless group of defenders, their line-up bolstered by a pair of mid-season signings: Derrick White, a San Antonio Spurs guard, and Daniel Theis, a Houston Rockets defensive center who started his career in Boston.

After winning 28 of their last 35 games to close out the regular season, the Celtics pulverized the Nets with a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs. Even before the series ended, Irving told reporters that the Celtics’ window was “now.” After the sweep was completed, Durant predicted that Boston had a chance “to do some big things.”

Boston and Miami traded victories in the first four games of the conference final, after which the Celtics became the first to string two victories together. Miami shot 33.3 percent in Game 4 and then 31.9 percent in Game 5 – both lopsided defeats. But with their season on the line in Game 6, the Heat reacted. Butler scored 47 points on the road in Boston, forcing a winner-takes-all Game 7 in Miami.

Heading into this pivotal game, the Celtics delivered a winning performance worthy of the cheers of their fans, who had seen them at their worst not long ago. Now perhaps the very best is yet to come.

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