August 10, 2022

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11:22 PM ET Tim BontempsESPN MIAMI — Nothing about this Boston Celtics season has been...

MIAMI — Nothing about this Boston Celtics season has been simple. So, it stands to motive, making it to the NBA Finals would not be, both.

However, on the finish of a grueling seven-game collection within the Jap Convention finals towards the Miami Heat, that’s precisely the place the Celtics have returned as soon as once more.

Behind a pair of terrific video games from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston gained its third sport at FTX Area on this collection, escaping with a 100-96 victory in entrance of a sellout crowd that was thrilled by the exploits of the house group proper to the sport’s waning moments.

“Feels prefer it was at all times meant to be this manner,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka stated. “Tough.”

With the win, the Celtics superior to the NBA Finals for the primary time in 12 years, the place they’re going to face the Golden State Warriors. The collection begins Thursday night time (9 p.m. ET on ABC) at San Francisco’s Chase Heart — a matchup that options 123 video games of NBA Finals expertise throughout Golden State’s roster, in comparison with precisely zero for Boston’s.

To get there, the Celtics managed to keep away from what would have been a really disastrous collapse, going from having a 13-point lead with 3:35 remaining, to a 7-point benefit with simply over a minute to go, to having their season within the arms of Jimmy Butler with 17 seconds to play because the Warmth celebrity rose up for a transition pull-up 3-pointer that might’ve given Miami the lead.

“When he shot that, I used to be like, ‘Man, what the hell,’” stated Brown, who completed with 24 factors in 43 minutes.

“Not once more,” stated Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who had 24 factors in 40 minutes himself. “Man, Jimmy has been enjoying effectively, so when he pulled up, it was type of like, ‘Oh, man. Simply hope he does not make it.’”

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Destiny, although, proved to be on Boston’s aspect. As a substitute of sending the Warmth again into the lead, Butler’s shot as an alternative ricocheted off the entrance of the rim. And, after Good hit a pair of free throws, the Celtics might — lastly — breathe simply.

“[I] simply did not know how you can act,” stated Al Horford, who had been the record-holder for many playoff video games in NBA historical past with out reaching the NBA Finals earlier than Boston gained this sport, and who had 5 factors and 14 rebounds in 44 minutes within the win. “Simply caught up, excited. Lots of arduous work. I have been part of a variety of nice groups, a variety of nice teammates, and I am so pleased with this group.”

What made Boston’s late-game foibles all of the extra shocking was simply how sure-minded the Celtics had been all through the sport. After blowing a chance to finish this collection at residence Friday night time in Recreation 6, the Celtics had been unanimous of their perception they’d come again to Miami and win this sport.

And, for the primary 46 minutes, they had been true to their phrase. After spending a lot of this collection committing unforced errors, Boston was locked in from the start of this one. The Celtics did not let the Warmth make a area aim for the opening three minutes, leaping out to an early lead that Boston, which led wire-to-wire, by no means relinquished.

“That is us,” Brown stated. “We have been responding all yr, all season to adversity. Right now was the largest take a look at, not simply of the yr however of our careers, to mentally come right into a Recreation 7 away after dropping on our residence court docket, which was powerful, and we bought it completed.”

Each time the Celtics pushed the lead out, the Warmth discovered a technique to reel them again in. A lot of that was all the way down to Butler’s brilliance, as he had 35 factors and performed each second of the sport.

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However the Warmth — a gritty, powerful group that beat these Celtics two years in the past on this identical collection contained in the NBA’s bubble on the Walt Disney World Resort — confirmed why they had been atop the East standings for many of this season, and earned the No. 1 seed within the East playoffs. They fought tooth and nail to remain within the sport, getting an enormous sport from Bam Adebayo (25 factors, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) and making life depressing for Boston for each second of the sport on the different finish.

In the end, although, the Celtics gained this collection the best way they’ve gained so many video games since turning their season round after a loss to Portland on Jan. 21 dropped them to 23-24: by enjoying suffocating protection. And, after Miami opened the fourth quarter with two buckets to tug to inside 82-79 with 10:58 to go within the sport, forcing Udoka to name timeout, Boston held Miami scoreless for greater than 4 minutes.

That allowed the Celtics to create sufficient of a cushion to, in the end, maintain off that one closing Warmth cost.

“Protection is our identification,” Udoka stated. “It has been there and held us — bought us via the powerful occasions, when the offense wasn’t clicking, video games when the offense does not click on to the extent it ought to, we will at all times depend on that, and that was the case tonight.

“Received massive leads, dwindled it down and we continued to get stops after we wanted to, particularly on the finish.”

The Celtics additionally bought some big-time shot-making down the stretch from Tatum, who completed with 26 factors, 10 rebounds and 6 assists en path to being identify the inaugural winner of the Larry Bird Trophy as Eastern Conference finals MVP.

Two pictures specifically halfway via the fourth quarter — a 3-pointer on the left wing, and a midrange jumper from the elbow — helped maintain the Warmth at bay after they made yet one more push again into the sport.

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The Celtics punched their ticket again to the Finals for the primary time since dropping to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven video games in 2010. And, by doing so, the Celtics now have an opportunity to win Banner 18 — which might push them again out in entrance of their eternally rivals within the race to have probably the most titles in NBA historical past.

It has been a real roller-coaster trip of a season for the Celtics — and, actually, the previous few seasons. That is the third time in 5 NBA seasons Tatum has been within the East finals. It is the fourth time in six for Brown, and fourth in eight for Good. It is Horford’s first journey after 16 seasons.

En path to reaching the NBA Finals, the Celtics knocked out the groups that beat them in every of the final three playoffs — the Warmth (2020), the Milwaukee Bucks (2019) and Brooklyn Nets (2021). They did so by successful seven video games on the street, back-to-back Recreation 7s and three elimination video games.

And, in consequence, they’re headed to the Bay, and a date with the Warriors.

“I really do,” Tatum stated, when requested if he thought these experiences helped the Celtics break via this time round. “Within the second while you lose these collection, clearly it hurts and it is powerful. However you always remember it.

“I believe that is what all of us have in frequent, that we have all been via these powerful occasions and we bear in mind how that felt.

“We did not wish to have that feeling once more leaving right here tonight. We left all of it out on the ground. Clearly we bought it completed.”