Even when it looked like it would be easy, it wasn’t. These Celtics simply never let it be easy. And the Miami Heat are too good for it to be easy. They never rolled over and never gave up.
When Jimmy Butler pulled up from 29 feet with 16.6 seconds to play, it had the feeling of “Here we go again.”
But this time, he missed.
And the Celtics are going to the 2022 NBA Finals.
2. Jayson Tatum did his thing as a scorer as he won the first-ever Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP trophy. Tatum got started early by scoring in a way we don’t often see. Tatum got on the offensive glass for this putback to give Boston a 2-0 lead, and the Celtics would never trail:
This play was funny, because it’s all too often been the Celtics who are caught arguing while the opponent plays on. Here, Tatum was the beneficiary of the Heat arguing vs playing ball:
This is a shot Tatum should be able to get to in the Finals. The Warriors play some smaller guards, and sometimes they play them together. Pullup triples like this are there:
At this point in the game, Boston had built a good lead and they were trading buckets with the Heat. The Celtics had to keep scoring and Tatum delivered:
On the next possession, Tatum shook Jimmy Butler to get one of the biggest hoops he’ll ever make:
3. Jaylen Brown was right there with Jayson Tatum in the scoring game. This play is started by Al Horford making a great steal, then he got it to Brown in transition. As he did all series, if Brown had weak defenders in front of him on the move, he was off to the rim:
This time there aren’t weaker defenders in front, but Brown’s attack mindset serves him well here. He’s downhill before the Heat can even set their defense:
Victor Oladipo tried to jump the passing lane here and left Brown open. No hesitation to pull this one from Brown:
The jumper wasn’t falling for Brown very often, so he focused on driving. This was a tough finish around Jimmy Butler:
Once more, Brown got to the rim before the Heat could set their defense. If he saw only smalls back, he just went:
4. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were great as scorers, but just as important, they were great playmakers too. They combined for 12 of Boston’s 22 assists on 35 baskets.
Double-team Tatum in the mid-post area at your own risk:
This is a big-time drive-and-kick find by Brown against the rotating Heat defense:
One of Ime Udoka’s adjustments in the series was to put Tatum in spots where he could read the doubles and traps easier. Then, off that, the Celtics started giving Tatum easier outlets to find guys. This is simple, but effective basketball:
This is great patience by Brown. He doesn’t force the drive into traffic. He lets things set and then finds Derrick White for the three:
On this one, Tatum and Brown hooked up together on the drive and drop-off:
For months, Udoka has preached “drive and kick” to force the defense to react. This is one of the best passes Brown has ever made:
With the Heat creeping back into the game, Tatum had another outstanding drive here before leaving it for Grant Williams for the layup:
Two stars playing unselfish basketball and trusting their teammates. Things you love to see.
5. Throughout these playoffs, but especially in this series, you could see Ime Udoka windmilling his arm like prime Wendell Kim coaching third base for the Red Sox. He wanted the Celtics to push pace.
It finally paid off in Game 7. Boston had 20 fastbreak points and at least 25 more points in transition. That mindset to get it and go will serve the Celtics well in the NBA Finals.
6. Marcus Smart was a big part of that early push. By pushing the ball, Smart got the defenders on his heels, and he buried the pullup:
A little later, Smart’s hit-ahead helped get Grant Williams this transition layup:
Once again, playing against a non-set defense pays off. This is an outstanding pass by Smart to Williams for another layup:
On this play in the second half, Smart is in full control. He’s got his shooters spaced out, but Smart knows he wants to hit Jayson Tatum sprinting the floor:
Yes, Marcus Smart took some ill-advised shots down the stretch. But this is who he is. And this is why we love and trust him.
7. Al Horford is going to his first NBA Finals of his 15-year career. And he wasn’t a passive, end-of-the-bench bystander either. Horford was heavily involved in getting Boston to the Finals.
This was a monster block leading to a layup the other way:
This is a good cut by Jayson Tatum and a great find by Horford:
This play is fun because Horford sprints the floor to give Boston the numbers advantage. He’s rewarded with the layup:
One more time, this is what a high-level defender does:
It’s easy to be happy for all of the Celtics. But it’s REALLY easy to be happy for Al Horford today.
8. The Celtics bench was a short one, as Ime Udoka really only played seven players. But Derrick White and Grant Williams both stepped up big time.
White has that “new dad energy” flowing and he’s playing great. He was especially good about attacking weaker defenders to get to his floater in the lane like this:
As for Grant Williams, he had to play big minutes because Rob Williams was so limited with his hurt knee. Grant was great holding things down on both ends. This putback was one of the biggest shots of the game:
9. Jimmy Butler dominated in the first half with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting. In the second half, Butler only scored 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Maybe he ran out of steam, but Boston’s defense stepped up too.
This play from Jaylen Brown could go unnoticed because there’s no stat involved, but he completely shuts Butler down here for the stop:
Butler was amazing, but in Game 7, the Celtics made him earn everything he got.
10. When Jimmy Butler missed that pullup three and Marcus Smart calmly buried two free throws, you could feel it. The Celtics needed one more stop, and they got two, because why do anything easy? When Al Horford grabbed that final rebound and sent the ball skyward, there was relief and jubilation.
The Boston Celtics are back in the NBA Finals after a 12-year absence. They finally broke through.
Now, as Ime Udoka said postgame, “Now we gotta go get four more.”
Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals is Thursday, June 2 in San Francisco at 9:00 PM ET on ABC.