The Boston Celtics held off the Miami Heat in Sunday night's Game 7 to advance to their first NBA Finals since 2010.
A strong first quarter was the difference as the C's outscored the Heat by 15 in the opening frame. No team in NBA history has lost a Game 7 after leading by at least 15 after one quarter, according to The Boston Globe's Alex Speier. The Celtics are now 22-0 since 1955 when leading a playoff game by at least 15 points at the end of the first quarter.
It wasn't smooth sailing for Boston, however. Miami had a whopping 19 free throw attempts in the second quarter and went 14-for-22 from the line in the half. The Celtics' 16 first-half fouls were the most they've committed in the first half of a game all season. The Heat were able to cut the C's lead to two with an 11-0 run late in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as Boston escaped with a 100-96 win.
Jayson Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with 26 points while Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart added 24 apiece. Jimmy Butler had another stellar performance for the Heat with 35 points, and Bam Adebayo had 25 of his own.
The Celtics will take on the Golden State Warriors for a chance to raise Banner No. 18. Game 1 is set for 9 p.m. ET Thursday at Chase Center.
Here are our takeaways from Boston's dramatic Game 7 victory over Miami.
No help from Heat's supporting cast
Butler followed up his 47-point Game 6 outburst with a 35-piece in Game 7. The Heat star put his team on his shoulders with 24 points in the first half, including 18 in the second quarter. He finished with 35 points on 13-of-24 shooting and 11 of those points came from the free throw line.
Bam Adebayo hasn't been a difference-maker in the series, but he stepped up as Butler's sidekick on Sunday night. The big man had 25 points (12-21 FG) and 11 boards.
Butler and Adebayo contributed 60 points together on 25-for-45 (55.5 percent) shooting. The rest of the Heat roster finished with a combined 35 points on 12-for-43 shooting (27.9 percent). The lack of help for Butler and Adebayo cost Miami a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Jays rise to the occasion
It turns out the Celtics didn't need Jayson Tatum to play hero ball in order to seal the deal in Game 7. As much as C's fans would have loved a takeover game from their superstar, Tatum found other ways to propel his team to the Finals.
Tatum, who earned the inaugural Larry Bird Trophy as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP, had a team-high six assists to go with 10 boards, two blocks and a steal. The most important stat of all though was his two turnovers. Taking care of the basketball has been the key to the series, and Tatum did a solid job of that in the series-clinching win.
While this wasn't Tatum's most efficient offensive performance (9-21 FG), the 24-year-old still stepped up in crunch time. Donning the purple Kobe Bryant No. 24 armband, Tatum drilled a couple of clutch 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter.
Jaylen Brown left his mark on Game 7 with 24 points (8-15 FG), six rebounds and six assists. He struggled from the charity stripe throughout the series but came through when it mattered most by going 7-for-8 from the line in this one. There's still room for improvement in the turnover department (four) but overall, Brown was a big part of Boston's success on both ends of the floor.
The full Marcus Smart experience
C's fans are accustomed to feeling every emotion while watching Marcus Smart, and that especially was the case in Sunday night's showdown.
Smart came through with 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals. Those numbers look nice in the box score, but the veteran guard gave all of Boston heart palpitations with five straight missed shots late in the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for the C's, Smart made up for his mishaps by hitting clutch free throws to seal the win.
The Celtics won't want Smart taking 22 shots and 10 3-point attempts in the Finals, but they'll take what he gave them in Game 7 and throughout the Eastern Conference Finals. As long as he continues to thrive as a facilitator and is his Defensive Player of the Year self, Boston should be in decent shape against Golden State.
A night to remember for Al Horford
Al Horford was overcome with emotion when the final buzzer sounded in the Game 7 win. That's because the 35-year-old is headed to the first NBA Finals of his career, 15 seasons and 141 career playoff games later.
Horford returned to Boston last summer in the trade that sent Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City. It was Brad Stevens' first move as C's president of basketball operations, and it proved to be a game-changer.
Horford was outstanding defensively throughout Sunday's victory and played 44 minutes. He notched 14 rebounds and two emphatic blocks to show age is just a number.
Robert Williams struggles through knee injury
One thing to keep an eye on heading into the NBA Finals is the health of Robert Williams. The Celtics big man toughed out the knee soreness that has kept him on the injury report throughout the series, but it clearly was bothering him throughout Game 7. The C's will hope these next few days off will give Time Lord enough time to heal, because they'll need him available to protect the rim against the Warriors. Keep an eye on that injury report leading into Game 1 on Thursday.
Williams finished Game 7 with two points, three rebounds and an assists in 15 minutes.