The Boston Celtics will meet the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals after they overcame the 1-seed Miami Heat 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ime Udoka's side led for the entirety of the match after a dominant first quarter. Miami were only two points behind as Jimmy Butler ran up the court with 20 seconds left in the fourth, but he could not drain a three-pointer as Bam Adebayo was forced to foul Marcus Smart, who drained two clutch free-throws to seal the win for Boston.
Jayson Tatum had another solid night as he had 26 points and 10 rebounds. He was named as the first Eastern Conference Finals MVP after Steph Curry was given the same accolade for the West Finals. Al Horford had a big night on the boards, grabbing 14 rebounds, meanwhile, Smart and Jaylen Brown both had 24.
Tyler Herro returned for the Heat but he could only manage six minutes on the floor as he failed to score a single point from his two shots. It was another big night for Butler who maintained his momentum after a 47-point haul in Game 6. He had 35 as Adebayo also had a solid night, scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 boards.
Kyle Lowry had 15, but the rest of the team did not step up on the scoring front as Victor Oladipo had nine as he shot 33.3 per cent from the field. Max Strus chipped in with eight points in 35 minutes.
The young Boston core of Brown and Tatum will make their first trip to the finals after another Game 7 victory. They have overcome Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on their way. Next up: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Boston were 11th in the East in January but have rallied to reach the finals. They are 37-12 since Brown tweeted on January 31: 'The energy is about to shift'. He was not wrong.
"We're quick to flip the page and say, 'We've got four more,'" Udoka told reporters after the game. "We don't hang or celebrate Eastern Conference championships in the Celtics organization … We're here now trying to finish the deal."
This year the Warriors and Celtics split their series 1-1 and Boston are the only side to have a positive record over Golden State under Steve Kerr.
"We played Golden State pretty well this year, obviously beat them pretty bad late in the season," Udoka added. "So the story this season, we've competed well against the best teams, and obviously you have to do that to make it to this point now."
"So, very confident going in," he said. "I know it's another tough challenge. I think Miami will help prep us for some of the off-ball actions in the shooters that they had. But we know [the Warriors are] a high-level team, executing team that has a ton of great shooters, great players overall, guys I know well. We're ready for the challenge."
On being the first to win the first Larry Bird East Finals MVP award, Tatum said: "It's an honor. It still doesn't even seem real right now. I'm just extremely happy and grateful for all of this. Regardless of how long I've been in the league, I'm not too far removed from when I was in high school and when I was dreaming about moments like this."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said: "I thought it would have been an incredible storyline for Jimmy to pull up and hit that 3," Spoelstra said. "I love that about Jimmy. That was the right look, and I just thought as it was leaving his hand, I thought for sure that was going down.
"It was a good, clean look, definitely better than anything we could have designed. It was a shame it didn't end that way, but I can't compliment Boston enough."
Butler: "My thought process was go for the win. Which I did. Missed a shot. But I'm taking that shot. My teammates liked the shot that I took. So I'm living with it."
Game 1 of the finals will tip-off on Thursday night at the Chase Center. Golden State have home-court advantage for the series.