Is there a more Miami Heat way to win a series than going on the road and ripping the heart out of Boston fans in their own building in a Game 7?
Is there a more fitting way for this era of Celtics to lose this series than to play poorly until their backs are against the wall, then flip the switch and look like the best team in the NBA, only to not quite get all the way there?
In those ways the Eastern Conference Finals worked out the way it should have, with the Miami Heat taking charge of Game 7 in the first quarter and never looking back. The Heat beat the Celtics 103-84 to advance to the NBA Finals (which start Thursday in Denver).
Here are three takeaways from Game 7.
1) Caleb Martin embodied the difference in this series
Jimmy Butler was officially voted MVP of the Conference Finals. He averaged 24.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game through the series, numbers that are hard to argue. He is the best player on the team.
However, he won in a tight 5-4 vote over Caleb Martin — who had 26 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7, but more than that embodied the difference in this series. Martin played with intention, focus, and with a commitment to the system every night in a way the Celtics don’t do consistently. Martin, a guy waived by the Hornets in the summer of 2021, has had to scrap and fight for everything he’s gotten in the league, and with that comes a hardened edge.
“To the untrained eye, he just looks like he’s an undrafted guy who has been in the G League, who has started with Charlotte and now he’s here,” Butler said of Martin. “Started on a two-way contract. That’s what it looks like to y’all. To us, he’s a hell of a player, hell of a defender, playmaker, shotmaker, all of the above. Everybody [on the team] has seen Caleb work on those shots day in, day out. It doesn’t surprise us. We have seen it every single day. I’m so proud and happy for him.”
Martin’s shotmaking also embodied why the Heat won — they were simply better at getting and hitting the shots they wanted all series long. It was historic shotmaking.
Bam Adebayo had another rough offensive outing — 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting with a lot of good looks missed — but his defense was stellar and that was reflected in his +22 on the night, the best of any starter on the team. He remains vital to what they do.
2) Jayson Tatum‘s rolled ankle proved too much for Celtics
The Celtics didn’t lose this series because Jayson Tatum rolled his ankle on the game’s first play.
They lost this series because when they went down 0-3 in the series they left themselves no margin for error — everything had to go perfectly. It never does, just ask the other 150 teams in NBA history to go down 0-3 in a series. Tatum went on to score 14 points, but he admitted he was a shell of himself.
The Celtics needed to collectively make up for Tatum being slowed (much the way the Heat’s role players such as Gabe Vincent stepped up with Tyler Herro out).
Jaylen Brown didn’t, he ended up shooting 8-of-23 for 19 points, but with eight turnovers. Derrick White had 18 and was the best Celtic in Game 7. Malcolm Brogdon tried but could not play through an elbow injury he may need off-season surgery on (and coach Joe Mazzulla stuck with him a little too long).
The bigger problem was Boston was 9-of-42 (21.4%) on 3-pointers. Miami leaned into their zone defense (which allowed them to keep Duncan Robinson on the floor) and while the Celtics did a better job of getting into the middle of that zone, but they still needed to knock down shots over the top of it. They failed.
When the Celtics’ shots aren’t falling it bleeds into the other aspects of their game — the defensive lapses come, the mental focus goes in and out. Consistency is not a hallmark of these Celtics.
We’ll get into Boston’s future in the next couple of days, they should and will re-sign Jaylen Brown and make another run, but this core needs to look at itself in the mirror and figure out why it can’t play closer to its peak nightly.
3) The Heat are the life lesson you want to teach
As a parent, there are a lot of life lessons you try to pass on to your children, although you eventually realize that it’s more about what you show them day-to-day than what you say in any moment that really resonates.
One thing I want to show my daughters, what I want for them is to be resilient like this Miami team — a group that took a punch to the gut in Game 6, stumbled, got up off the ground, shook off the dust, and came back with more resolve and focus.
“I think probably people can relate to this team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team advanced. “Life is hard. Professional sports is just kind of a reflection sometimes of life, that things don’t always go your way. The inevitable setbacks happen and it’s how you deal with that collectively. There’s a lot of different ways that it can go. It can sap your spirit. It can take a team down for whatever reason. With this group, it’s steeled us and made us closer and made us tougher.
“These are lessons that hopefully we can pass along to our children, that you can develop this fortitude. And sometimes you have to suffer for the things that you want. Game 6, the only thing that we can do is sometimes you have to laugh at the things that make you cry…
“We have some incredible competitors in that locker room. They love the challenge. They love putting themselves out there in front of everybody. Open to criticism. Open to everything. But to compete for it, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
They did compete harder than the team in Green across from them, and that’s why Miami tips off in the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
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