Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat beat Celtics in Game 7 and will advance to the NBA Finals

The Miami Heat are returning to the Finals for the seventh time, avoiding a spot on the wrong side of history by not blowing a 3-0 lead. The squad is also the second eighth seed to advance to the championship round behind the 1999 Knicks and the first play-in group to win the conference.

Jimmy Butler was awarded the second Larry Bird East Finals MVP trophy with five of the nine votes from the media panel covering the series. Caleb Martin received the other four votes after averaging 19.2 points and 6.4 rebounds through seven games.

The Boston faithful were stupefied at the start of the fourth quarter, as the Heat were up double digits. Caleb Martin, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo had guided the visitors as each had logged at least 31 minutes through three quarters.

At the start of the match, nerves affected both units as the score read 9-4 in favor of Boston. Miami’s defense then turned ravenous in the 2-3 zone and held the hosts to just 15 points in the first frame.

Malcolm Brogdon got just seven minutes of burn after missing all of Game 6 because he re-aggravated his right forearm injury. Jayson Tatum twisted his left ankle when he landed on Gabe Vincent’s foot under the rim in the first quarter. It left him hobbling the rest of the night, and he would later say post-game that he was “a shell of himself.”

Butler snapped out of his funk, finishing on a break post steal, zipping past defenders for baseline jumpers and maneuvering past drop coverage. Martin punched his scorecard with putbacks, catch-and-release shots in transition and in the halfcourt and a fadeaway in the lane over Al Horford.

At halftime, the White and Red led by 11 points and suppressed the Celtics to 38.6% field goal efficiency. Adebayo picked up three fouls but was the team’s most active disruptor on the ball or as a help defender.

In the second half, Butler dropped an additional 17 points on rim drives and hoisting away from the perimeter and elbow. Martin recorded another dozen points, only missing one shot, while Adebayo had eight.

In the last two quarters, Jaylen Brown and Tatum converted five of 16 attempts. Brown couldn’t shake defenders with his weak handle and settled for contested shots. JT missed an open jumper in the lane, an uncovered four-foot layup, plus the two triples defended by Martin. Had it not been for the Game 6 hero Derrick White, the Green Machine would have turned gangrenous earlier.

A minute into the fourth quarter, Butler pick-potted Brown and raced down the court for a jam to give Miami a 17-point advantage. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla called a timeout to stop the bleeding, but his troops were yielding.

The hosts were shooting blanks and committed four turnovers in the last interval, obstructing its comeback efforts. The Heatles logged 11 of 16 tries in the final frame, sealing its opponent’s tomb.

After the game, the Heat was presented with the conference crown and Alonzo Mourning handed Butler the East Finals MVP trophy.

At the postgame presser, coach Erik Spoelstra said, “Pat [Riley] feels a certain way about Boston. So I make sure that everybody feels a certain way about Boston. That’s part of my job as the caretaker. With that said, there’s great respect for them as competitors. They are first class…”

Butler praised his team and said it was ready for the next round.

“Everybody’s confidence is so high,” Butler said. “We got belief that we can do something incredibly special. So, we are going to hit the ground running when we get to Denver, and I like our chances.”

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