After three games and three quarters of methodically chipping away – and coming tantalizingly close to making history – the Celtics ran out of steam in Game 7 against the Heat.
Miami earned a 103-84 victory on Monday at TD Garden, winning the series four games to three and advancing to face the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals.
Jayson Tatum sprained his ankle on the first play of the game, Jaylen Brown had eight turnovers, the Celtics shot 21.4 percent from 3, and Boston scored just 18 points in a dreadful fourth quarter. Jimmy Butler led the way with 28, and Celtics killer Caleb Martin added 26.
The Celtics were sluggish and out of sorts the bulk of the night. They showed signs of life in flashes, but the Heat withstood every surge and avenged last year’s loss at the same juncture.
NBA teams are now 0-151 after falling behind 0-3 in a series – not 1-150.
Caleb Martin, y'all.— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 30, 2023
He's got 23 points through 3 quarters. pic.twitter.com/5ipjJwcVGL
It wasn’t pretty early, either, but they did enough to hang around.
Tatum injured his ankle 26 seconds into the game and appeared to be in some pain the rest of the way. Brown became the 1A option and kept the Celtics afloat, yet Martin continued to cook and the Heat took a 22-15 edge through one.
The Celtics shot just 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) from the field and 0-for-10 from 3-point range and had nearly as many turnovers (four) as they did field goals in the quarter. They came out with those early-game jitters that often seem to accompany a massive game like this one. It was as rough as it sounds.
Miami extended its lead to 38-21 with 7:32 left in the half. Boston fell behind by 17 or more 11 times this season and lost all 11. The odds were significantly stacked against the Celtics once again, but (for whatever reason) that’s exactly where they feel their most comfortable.
As they’ve consistently done all season, and all series, they responded. Robert Williams finished an alley-oop, Tatum scored in transition and Derrick White buried a 3. The Celtics briefly cut it to eight, and they trailed, 52-41, at the half.
It was a classic “they played terribly, but they’re only down 11” half, but it was true. They were only down 11.
A mini 8-0 flurry from White – including an and-one with a celebration from the ground – cut the deficit to 59-51 in the third quarter. Williams found Tatum for 3, then White scored inside again. The Garden crowd was ready to explode – simultaneously antsy and enthusiastic, ready for a run.
Derrick White giving the Celtics some life here pic.twitter.com/JAcvpkS8u0— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 30, 2023
But Martin kept the Heat in front with a series of impressive shots. The Heat took a 76-66 edge into the fourth.
The Celtics were right there, and they needed to find a way to get over the hump, but Martin and Co. simply wouldn’t allow it, though. Miami saved its best for last and pulled away to prevent the Celtics from getting back to the NBA Finals.
Boston ultimately dug itself in too deep of a hole. Game 7 was a microcosm of the series, as the Celtics faltered early, responded, then struggled mightily late.
There will be no parade. A long and pivotal offseason awaits.