Two best words in sports: game 7?
Wrong, it’s “Caleb Martin.”
History was indeed made tonight, and it’s that an 8 seed is walking into the NBA Finals.
#1: Heat come out with a defensive plan.
As the Heat walk into TD Garden in game 7, they needed something from their three best players: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Erik Spoelstra. And Spo set those other two up early. Jayson Tatum got hurt to start this game, leaving him off ball many possessions. The Heat’s defense was full-out soft switching every screen, as they were daring them to work through the mismatches. Boston would force passes, Miami would swarm passing lanes, and turnovers were forced. A 15 point first quarter for this Celtics team that started the year with a historic offense? Yeah, it was needed. They shifted into the 2-3 zone to start the second quarter, and it was just as successful by forcing the shots they wanted. Miami’s defense came to play early.
#2: The role guys “rolling” with the punches.
As I mention the shift into zone in that second quarter, that was formed around the role guys beginning with new rotation piece Haywood Highsmith. He forced an immediate turnover and got a bucket on the other end. The offense took control from there with a Kyle Lowry pull-up, Duncan Robinson back-cuts, and well, Caleb Martin everything. This series started with Martin reacting to what the Celtics threw at him, and now they’re reacting to the combos he’s throwing at them. Capitalizing on spot-ups, controlling the pace, and simply hitting tough iso shots that he self creates. Just big time stuff in that first half. He also was rebounding at an extremely high level, which was needed due to the soft switching. It may flatten things out, but you are vulnerable on offensive boards following mismatches. Martin continues to step up.
#3: The first half Jimmy Butler ride.
Walking into this game, the expectation was clear across the board: Jimmy Butler has to set the tone for this game to matter. And well, he didn’t set the tone…and it didn’t matter. He was still utilizing that pump fake and wasn’t getting to his spots, but as I said before, the defense stepping up put them in a position to stay in it. As for Butler, he drove baseline mid-way through that first quarter, stopped before the right box, and pulled right into the jumper. That was the adjustment, yet he wasn’t consistently in that mind frame. Shortly after, he mixed in a hesi into an attack instead of the shot fake, which was another good sign. But with all of that said, his offensive first half was not loud or controlled by any means. It was a roller coaster depending on the possession, but the offense was still extremely smooth in the half-court. And to start the third, we entered “setting the tone” Butler time. An immediate pull-up three into a catch and attack for a floater, forcing a Celtics timeout. Yeah, an experience.
#4: Bam Adebayo seeing flashbacks…
As the Celtics made their third quarter run with the Heat’s offense running out of gas seemingly, the blame rested on an action revolving around their two stars. Butler-Adebayo pick and roll, Boston switches it with length on Butler and mismatch on Bam, and down went production. Butler continued to have trouble getting to those spots at all, and well, they began relying on the weakness to attack: Bam Adebayo. This was a flashback of exactly a year ago in game 7, as Boston forced Bam to put his back to the basket. So Miami went to it in the third, and he couldn’t convert: again and again. The fall back plan ended up being the role guys yet again, but that’s a problem that can’t be overlooked. Teams now have the book on him with the correct personnel with this exact coverage, and man can it hurt the offense if Martin isn’t casually converted into Michael Jordan 2.0 at the same time.
#5: Fourth quarter business…onto the NBA Finals.
My Butler take heading all the way into game 7: “setting a tone.” And well, he didn’t do it to start the game, but he did it to start the fourth. After the Martin heroics push the lead, Butler wasn’t letting his group let up. Knocks down a middy, pokes the ball free for the steal, and flows right into a transition dunk. Good punch. To sustain the distance, Duncan Robinson hits a leaning left corner triple, Kyle Lowry buries a late shot clock pull-up heave, and Bam Adebayo found a flow. All of a sudden, the tides were turning. With 6 minutes left, Robinson dives for another back-cut with the dish from Bam, and the Heat now lead 94-73 in that building. The 8 seeded Miami Heat have found themselves in the NBA Finals. All the talk about witnessing history tonight, and we did just that. Defeating the odds of a momentum filled Celtics team and landing themselves at their final destination. History indeed.