NBA playoffs: Heat fend off Celtics to reach NBA Finals after nearly blowing 3-0 series lead

Caleb Martin dropped 26 points to help lead the Heat in what turned out to be a blowout win in Game 7 on Monday night. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

They certainly didn’t make it easy, but the Miami Heat are officially headed to the NBA Finals.

Caleb Martin and the Heat fended off the Boston Celtics on Monday night at TD Garden to take Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals 103-84. Martin dropped 26 points and shot 11-of-16 from the field in what turned out to be a blowout win in Boston. That snapped a three-game win streak for the Celtics, and kept the Heat from landing on the wrong side of NBA history.

The Celtics were just the fourth team in league history to even force a Game 7 after falling into a 0-3 series hole. No team has ever successfully rallied from that deficit and won the series in 151 attempts. The Celtics were just the fourth team to ever force a Game 7 after starting in that hole, too.

The Heat are now headed to their second NBA Finals in four seasons.

Caleb Martin leads Heat storming past Celtics

Though TD Garden was ridiculously loud to start the game, the Heat shut down Boston early. They took a seven point lead into the second quarter after holding the Celtics to just 15 points in the opening period — which marked their lowest-scoring first quarter all season. The Celtics shot 0-10 as a team from behind the arc in the first quarter, too.

To make matters worse for Boston, Jayson Tatum rolled his left ankle hard on the very first possession of the game. While he stayed in, his ankle was clearly bothering him. He only took a single field goal attempt in the first 12 minutes.

The Celtics finally made a pair of 3-pointers early in the second quarter, but the Heat rather easily pushed their lead to 17 points just a few minutes into the period. Though the Celtics cut into that a bit, Miami still took an 11-point lead at halftime.

White single-handedly mounted an 8-0 run on his own for the Celtics in the opening minutes of the third period, which cut the game back to single digits for the first time since the first quarter. He then got the deficit back to just eight points on a floater just after the 5-minute mark of the quarter, which forced Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to call a timeout. Finally, for about the first time all game, the Celtics seemed to have the momentum back on their side.

But it was Martin who hit a huge 3-pointer and then a fadeaway bucket from the short corner just before the buzzer to get the Heat back to a double digit lead by the end of the quarter.

Martin opened the fourth quarter with another 3-pointer before two quick buckets from Butler. That 7-0 run suddenly had the Heat up by 17 points once again. And just a few minutes later, after a mini Bam Adebayo run, the Heat had built up a 21-point lead.

The Celtics’ push was over, and TD Garden had a very different vibe than the first few minutes of the game. Miami simply cruised the rest of the way to the 19-point win, which earned the Heat a return trip to the NBA Finals.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 19 points and eight rebounds, though he had a career-high eight turnovers — which set a Celtics franchise record in a Game 7. White finished with 18 points, and Tatum added 14 points and 11 rebounds. Brown, Tatum and Marcus Smart shot a combined 3-of-19 from the 3-point line.

Butler finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the win. He was named the Eastern Conference finals MVP after the game, and averaged 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists throughout the series. Adebayo added 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Miami. Martin had 10 rebounds and three assists to go with his 26 points, too. The Heat shot 50% from the 3-point line as a team and had just 10 combined turnovers.

The Heat, after starting the postseason in the play-in tournament, will now take on the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals. The Nuggets, behind a dominant postseason showing from Nikola Jokic, swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals last week to reach their first ever NBA Finals. The Nuggets will host Miami in Game 1 of that series on Thursday night at Ball Arena.

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