Heat push Celtics back to reach NBA Finals after nearly losing series lead 3-0

Caleb Martin dropped 26 points to help lead the Heat in what turned out to be a blowout victory in Game 7 on Monday night.
Caleb Martin dropped 26 points to help lead the Heat in what turned out to be a blowout victory in Game 7 on Monday night. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

They certainly didn’t make it easy, but the Miami Heat are officially heading to the NBA Finals.

Caleb Martin and the Heat held off the Boston Celtics Monday night at TD Garden to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals 103-84. Martin was down 26 points and shot 11 of 16 from the field in what turned out to be a blowout victory in Boston. It ended a three-game winning streak for the Celtics and kept the Heat from landing on the wrong side of NBA history.

The Celtics were only the fourth team in league history to even force a Game 7 after falling to an 0-3 series hole. No team has ever managed to overcome this deficit and win the series in 151 attempts. The Celtics were only the fourth team to force a Game 7 after starting at this hole as well.

The Heat are now heading to their second NBA Finals in four seasons.

Caleb Martin leads Heat ahead of Celtics

Although TD Garden was ridiculously loud to start the game, the Heat shut down Boston early. They took a seven-point second-quarter lead after holding the Celtics to just 15 points in the opening period – which marked their lowest first quarter of the entire season. The Celtics also went 0-10 as a team from behind the arc in the first quarter.

To make matters worse for Boston, Jayson Tatum rolled his left ankle hard on the game’s first-ever possession. While he stayed inside, his ankle was clearly bothering him. He managed just one field goal attempt in the first 12 minutes.

The Celtics eventually managed a pair of 3-pointers early in the second quarter, but the Heat quite easily pushed their lead to 17 points just minutes into the period. Although the Celtics reduced that a bit, Miami still took an 11-point halftime lead.

White single-handedly mounted an 8-0 run for the Celtics in the opening minutes of the third period to bring the game down to single digits for the first time since the first quarter. He then cut the deficit to just eight points on a floater just after the 5-minute mark of the quarter, which forced Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to call a timeout. Finally, for the first time in the entire game, the Celtics seemed to be regaining momentum on their side.

But it was Martin who hit a huge 3-pointer and then a fadeaway bucket from the short corner just before the buzzer to pull the Heat back to a double-digit lead by the end of the quarter.

Martin opened the fourth quarter with another 3-pointer before two quick buckets from Butler. That 7-0 run suddenly sent the Heat up 17 points once again. And minutes later, after a mini run from Bam Adebayo, the Heat had built up a 21-point lead.

The Celtics’ push was over and TD Garden had a very different vibe to it than in the opening minutes of the game. Miami just went the rest of the way to the 19-point win, earning the Heat a return to the NBA Finals.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 19 points and eight rebounds, though he had a career-high eight turnovers, which set a Celtics franchise record in a Game 7. White finished with 18 points and Tatum added 14 points and 11 rebounds. Brown, Tatum and Marcus Smart shot a combined 3 of 19 from the 3-point line.

Butler finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the victory. He was named Eastern Conference Finals MVP after the game and averaged 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists throughout the series. Adebayo added 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Miami. Martin also had 10 rebounds and three assists with his 26 points. The Heat shot 50% from the 3-point line as a team and had just 10 turnovers combined.

The Heat, having started the playoffs in the play-in tournament, will now face the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals. The Nuggets, behind a dominating playoff performance from Nikola Jokic, swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals last week to reach their first-ever NBA Finals. The Nuggets host Miami in Game 1 of this series Thursday night at the Ball Arena.

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