Heat stomp Celtics, carry dream run into Finals


BOSTON — Jimmy Butler called his shot.

A year to the day after Butler vowed to get the Miami Heat over the hump following a hard-fought Game 7 loss to the Celtics in the 2022 Eastern Conference finals, he made good on his promise.

Miami joined the 1999 New York Knicks as the second No. 8 seed to make the NBA Finals after a dominant 103-84 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the conference finals on Monday night.

“Figure out a way to be consistent,” Butler said after the Game 7 defeat in 2022 that ended with him missing a 3-pointer that would have potentially won Miami the game. “I think we had enough, I think we do have enough … next year, we will have enough and we’re going to be right back in this same situation and we’re gonna get it done.”

He was right.

The truth behind Butler’s words has been prophetic throughout the Heat’s magical run this postseason. He scored 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists in 43 minutes in Monday’s Game 7, earning the Larry Bird trophy as the Eastern Conference finals MVP.

But Heat guard Caleb Martin — who didn’t play in last year’s Game 7 — stole the show this time with another huge game for the Heat, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 45 minutes. Martin had clutch performances throughout this series and went 11-for-16 from the field in Game 7.

After an initial push by the Celtics to start the game in front of a rabid crowd inside TD Garden, the Heat got up by as many as 17 in the first half, never letting Boston all the way back as their defense held tough all night. The Celtics took an early blow when star Jayson Tatum turned his left ankle on the opening possession of the game and appeared to struggle with the injury over the remainder of the contest. He finished with 14 points on 13 shots in 42 minutes.

The rest of the Celtics struggled to score, as well, as the team finished 9-for-42 on 3-pointers.

The Heat, meanwhile, made 50% of their 3-pointers in Game 7 — and they are now set to face their biggest test in Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Thursday in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

With Butler leading the way, the Heat went on the most improbable postseason run in recent memory, one in which they both made history — and avoided it — by not becoming the first NBA team to blow a 3-0 lead in a postseason series. After losing the first game of the play-in tournament to the Atlanta Hawks last month, the Heat were on the verge of not even making the playoffs while losing during the second play-in game late to the Chicago Bulls.

That’s when Butler took over. He finished with 31 points in that game and hasn’t stopped dominating ever since. Butler played arguably the best game of his career during a Game 4 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, scoring 56 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a 119-114 win. It was another sign of things to come for Butler and the Heat as he led them on one of the most impressive revenge tours in recent memory.

The Heat knocked out Giannis Antetokounmpo and the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the first round, the team that swept them a season ago. Then they took out Tom Thibodeau, Butler’s former coach, and the No. 5 seeded New York Knicks in six games. Next came the Celtics, the same team that beat them last year.

At each turn, Butler and his team rose to the occasion, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that the group continues to play without injured guards Tyler Herro (hand) and Victor Oladipo (knee). Aside from Butler’s brilliance, the Heat got huge contributions up and down the roster. Martin is playing with the kind of confidence that has defined this Heat run. Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson all hit big shots at various points in the series while center Bam Adebayo served as a defensive anchor, despite inconsistent offensive performances.

The fact that the Heat were able to rebound emotionally from a heartbreaking Game 6 loss in which Celtics guard Derrick White rebounded a Marcus Smart miss and laid it in at the buzzer for a 104-103 win to keep the series alive speaks to the mental toughness that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has praised about his team throughout the postseason. He was confident coming into Monday’s game that his group had gotten over the tough loss and would play well. He was rewarded throughout Game 7 as the Heat responded to every challenge along the way.

With Spoelstra calling the shots and making adjustments on the fly, the Heat maintained the belief that they could win the series and were buoyed by the hard-working, no excuses culture that Spoelstra and Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley have built for several decades in Miami.

The Heat also continue to give all they have behind the example that Butler continues to provide on a daily basis. The confidence and belief Butler’s play has instilled within the Heat’s locker room is palpable. They trust him and he continues to deliver in the biggest moments for a team that now sits just four wins away from their first title since 2013.

“Jimmy Butler, he’s the best player in the world right now,” veteran Heat guard Kyle Lowry said earlier in the series. “He’s just unbelievably good and he’s on our side.”

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