The Miami Heat closed out the Boston Celtics in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals on Monday, winning a deciding Game 7 103-84 to advance to the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.
The road victory for the Heat blocked the proud Celtics franchise from becoming the first NBA team to rally to win a seven-game series after losing the first three contests.
“We have some incredible competitors in that locker room. They love the challenge,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They love putting themselves out there in front of everybody. Open to criticism. Open to everything.”
Celtics point guard Malcolm Brodgon said he thought his team played tight and it affected their results on both ends of the court.
“I thought (the Heat) played loose. I thought they really executed on the defensive end,” the league’s Sixth Man of the Year said. “Then offensively they were poised. They weren’t rushed, they weren’t nervous.”
Eighth-seeded Miami had to come through the play-In tournament but has not let its underdog status have any bearing on its impressive playoff run so far.
Against Boston on Monday, Miami forward Jimmy Butler led the way with 28 points while forward Caleb Martin netted 26 points and had 10 rebounds.
Boston shot a frigid 39% from the field as a team, and no Celtic managed to score 20 points in the game.
Many teams have tried, a few have gotten close, but ultimately all have failed in trying to achieve the comeback of all comebacks, netting 0 for 151 attempts.
Most teams to go down 0-3 didn’t even make it this far.
This Boston squad marks the just the fourth team to ever force a Game 7 following a 0-3 start to a series: the New York Knicks forced a Game 7 in the 1951 NBA Finals against the Rochester Royals, the Denver Nuggets pushed it to the brink in the 1994 Western Conference semis against the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers almost made history in the 2003 Western Conference first round against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat, who have won three NBA titles, most recently in 2013, will face the top-seeded Nuggets in Denver on Thursday.
The Nuggets have not played a game in a week after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals last Monday.
How we got here
Spoelstra’s team took down Giannis Antetokounmpo and the No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, before winning a war of attrition against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference semis.
Despite Boston’s impressive regular season record, the No. 2 seed struggled throughout the postseason. It took the Celtics six games to get past the seventh-seeded Atlanta Hawks and another seven to get through the Philadelphia 76ers.
This brought the Heat and the Celtics together in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series has been an incredible display of drama and tension with the momentum ebbing and flowing throughout.
The Heat raced to a 3-0 lead in the series thanks to incredible performances by Butler and the Miami supporting cast.
Butler has been one of the stars of the NBA postseason and continued this form during the early games of the series against the Celtics.
Missing Tyler Herro through injury meant that head coach Erik Spoelstra had to seek other alternatives to support his star man. Up stepped Gabe Vincent and Martin – who have come up big in clutch time and throughout the series.
However, the Celtics won Game 4 and Game 5 in comfortable fashion with Jayson Tatum showing his brilliance in the win-or-go-home games. Back-to-back blowouts meant that Boston took the series back to Miami for Game 6 – the most crucial game of the series so far.
Buoyed by their home crowd support, it looked like the Heat had finally got their momentum back and had enough in the tank to become Eastern Conference champions.
The Heat held a one-point advantage with just three seconds left on the clock, but with the ball in Boston’s hands, it was far from over. As Marcus Smart attempted to splash home a game-winning three, the ball bounced off the rim and Derrick White scored a buzzer-beating putback to edge the game for the Celtics.
“It felt good. Everybody was asking me, ‘Did you get it off?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think so,’ but it was so close, you never know,” White told reporters afterwards. “We’re just happy we won. However, we got to get it done, we got it done, and now it’s on to Game 7.”
Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Game 7 hill was again too steep to overcome.
CNN’s Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.