Jayson Tatum scored 26 points, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart each added 24 and the Boston Celtics held off a frantic rally in the final seconds to beat the Miami Heat 100-96 on Sunday night and reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
Al Horford added 14 rebounds for the Celtics, who never trailed on the way to pulling off a Game 7 win on the road — and not including the bubble, that was the first such victory for the storied franchise since beating Milwaukee for the 1974 NBA title.
Next up for Boston: the Golden State Warriors in a series that starts Thursday in San Francisco.
Jimmy Butler, who willed Miami into Game 7 by scoring 47 points on Friday in Boston, led the Heat with 35 points in what became their season finale. Bam Adebayo added 25 for the Heat, who were down 11 with under 3 minutes to go before trying one last rally.
An 9-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Max Strus with 51 seconds left, got the Heat within 98-96. They had a chance for the lead with about 17 seconds to go when Butler tried a 3-pointer from the right wing, but it missed — and the Celtics escaped.
Boston forced the Heat into nine consecutive misses during a crucial stretch of the fourth quarter, using that stretch to turn an 82-79 lead into a 90-79 edge — and the Celtics, who had lost each of their last four trips to the East finals, found a way to hold on.
Kyle Lowry scored 15 for the Heat. Grant Williams finished with 11 for the Celtics.
The Celtics came out flying. The Heat came out the opposite of flying.
Boston’s lead was 32-17 after one quarter — the largest ever by a road team after 12 minutes of a Game 7, four points bigger than Golden State’s lead over the Los Angeles Lakers back in the 1977 playoffs.
The Celtics set that tone with defense; they held Miami to 33% shooting in the opening quarter, 1 for 7 from 3-point range and outscored the Heat 13-4 on fast breaks.
The lead was still 15 with 2:36 left in the half, when Miami showed signs of life.
An 11-2 run is how the Heat ended the half, the burst sparked by 3s from Strus and Butler, then capped by four free throws from Lowry in the final 29 seconds. Butler was up to 24 points at the break — he didn’t miss a single second — and Miami had gotten within 55-49 going into the third.
Miami thought it had gotten within 56-54 when Strus rattled in a corner 3 early in the third. But the Celtics answered with a 9-1 run, which was even worse — the NBA replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey decided that Strus had stepped out of bounds, his 3 came off the board while the game was going, and a 56-54 game became 65-52.
Celtics: Derrick White had to leave early in the fourth quarter because he was bleeding after his head got struck by Adebayo under a basket. … The Celtics became the first team to get three road wins over Miami in the same playoff series. Road teams went 5-2 in the East finals, Boston going 3-1 on the Heat home court.
Heat: Butler was the second NBA player this season to play every second of a game. The other was Oklahoma City’s Georgios Kalaitzakis, who played all 48 minutes of the Thunder’s season-ending 50-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. … Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro returned from a three-game absence because of a groin injury, but went scoreless in seven minutes.
GAME 7 HISTORY
Boston improved to 26-9 in Game 7s. Miami fell to 6-5 in such games and lost for the first time in five Game 7s at home under coach Erik Spoelstra.
Miami was a 2.5-point underdog at tipoff according to FanDuel Sportsbook, marking the second time in the last 20 Game 7s — excluding the bubble restart in 2020, when all the games were at Walt Disney World — that the home team wasn’t favored. The other was Houston in the 2018 Western Conference finals; the injury-plagued Rockets were 6.5-point underdogs and lost to Golden State 101-92.
Celtics reach NBA Finals, hold off Heat 100-96 in Game 7