The Boston Celtics have set up a final clash with the Warriors after holding off Miami Heat in Game 7 of the NBA playoffs to also emerged Eastern Conference finals champions.
The Celtics, led by American-Nigerian coach, Ime Udoka are returning to the finals for the first time since 2010 after beating the Heat 100-96 to win 4-3 in a best-of-seven series.
It was a game of unpredictable direction with the Heat trailing as much as 17 points at one stage but got back with defensive stops and productive attacks to bring it back to single digits.
Man on fire, Jimmy Butler, who anchored Miami’s push into Game 7 by scoring 47 points last week Friday in Boston, led the Heat with 35 points in what became their season finale. Bam Adebayo added 25 for the hosts, who were down 11 with under three minutes to go before trying one last rally.
A 9-0 run, capped by a three-pointer from Max Strus with 51 seconds left, got the Heat within 98-96. They had a chance for the lead with about 17 seconds to go when Butler tried a three-pointer from the right-wing but was unlucky to make the basket.
Despite the impressive stats he recorded, Butler said his performance wasn’t good enough.
“I didn’t do my job. Stats don’t mean anything, as I say over and over again. The Celtics came out here to do what they had to do in the series. I’ve learned that I have to be better and I will be better,” a frustrated Butler concluded.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart combined for 74 points, as Boston confirmed their 10th conference title and a 22nd finals appearance. Tatum scored 26 points, Brown and Smart recorded 24 while Grant Williams finished with 11 for the Celtics.
During the post-match briefing, Tatum who scooped the Eastern Conference finals MVP prize revealed the team received a lot of criticisms from the outside and that spurred them to get better.
“All of those things helped, from saying that we need to split the group up and get rid of somebody or me and JB can’t play together. That fueled us to figure it out and not run from it. Instead of separating, we became closer and I think it’s showing throughout the season,” Tatum said.
On winning the conference finals MVP trophy, Tatum described the recognition as a great honour.
“This is some of our fourth time in the conference finals, my third and to get over the hump with this group, means everything. So I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. The road that we took to get here, tot a lot of people believed in us. We took the toughest route and it worked out.”
The Celtics never trailed on the way to pulling off a Game 7 win on the road. Game one of the finals will take place on Thursday and Coach Udoka’s team looks good to challenge for the NBA title against the Golden State Warriors.(Channels TV)
•PHOTO: Ime Udoka