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Monday, July 15, 2024

Miami Heat Headed to NBA Finals After Hard Fought Victory in Game 7 of Playoffs

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By: Marvin Azrak

The Miami Heat demonstrated resilience and determination as they secured a hard-fought victory in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, earning a spot in the 2023 N.B.A. Finals.

Despite a spirited comeback attempt by the Boston Celtics, the Heat emerged victorious with a 103-84 win, maintaining the league’s perfect record(151-0) of the teams winning series when taking a 3-0 series lead. Jimmy Butler was named the Most Valuable Player of the Series after a sensational performance, leading his team with 28 points in the decisive contest. Miami had said all season they were better than their No. 8 seed and have surprised everyone but themselves.

They will travel to Denver on the planned flight before game seven and face the Denver Nuggets in the N.B.A. finals beginning Thursday. The Nuggets secured their first trip to the championship round by completing a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals a week ago. They cemented itself into first place in the Western Conference on Dec. 20 and ran roughshod through the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker-led Phoenix Suns, and now a team led by Anthony Davis and Lebron James.

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone holds the conference championship trophy after Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Final series against the Los Angeles Lakers Monday, May 22, 2023, in Los Angeles. Denver won 113-111 to win the series. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

They have a two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic, who has taken the league by storm.

Last offseason, Jokic signed a supermax contract that locks him up through 2028. Jamal Murray is signed through 2025. Michael Porter Jr., whose signing of a max agreement in 2021 raised some eyebrows considering his history with injuries, is inked with guaranteed money through at least 2026. But the all-star put all doubts to rest with a tremendous postseason performance, one he will take into his first finals.

“What I also love about this franchise is that when guys don’t fit into the culture, they’re not here anymore,” head coach Micheal Malone said. “We have guys that understand that being selfless is a huge part of being a Denver Nugget and guys who continue to buy into that, whether they’re playing or not.”

The Heat are just the second eighth seed, after the 1998-99 Knicks, to reach the N.B.A. finals under the current playoff format. They’ll look to become the first to finish on top as the San Antonio Spurs swept the Knicks team.

After the Heat won the series’ first three games, the Celtics regained their rhythm and won the next three to force a seventh and deciding game at home. Boston was bidding to become the first team to win an N.B.A. playoff series after trailing 3-0. Miami knew they would be a team remembered no matter the result. Ultimately, they came out on the good side of history.

“Sometimes you have to suffer for what you want,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said during the postgame trophy presentation, who will now prepare for his sixth final in 13 seasons, his second in four years. Oh, there was a lot of suffering in between. They were swept in 2021 by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks before being ousted in game seven by these same Celtics at this stage a year ago. “Next year, we’ll be in the same position and get it done,” Jimmu Butler said. A year later, they were, and they did, silencing a raucous T.D. Garden crowd from the opening tip.

Things went south quickly for the Celtics as superstar Jayson Tatum turned his ankle and looked hobbled the rest of the way. Tatum struggled to find his offensive rhythm, scoring only 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting and experiencing challenges on the defensive end. Jaylen Brown tried to step up in Tatum’s absence, but he had a putrid night, finishing with 19 points on 8-of-23 shooting and committing as many turnovers as made shots.

The Heat took advantage, with Butler and Caleb Martin shouldering the offensive load. Butler poured in 28 points, while Martin, an undrafted standout, had 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, impacting both ends of the court.

The Heat’s effective zone defense caused problems for Boston. Miami went on an 11-2 run to seize control, ended the first quarter with a 22-15 advantage, and never looked back. Tatum’s injury led to Boston’s lowest-scoring quarter of the season and didn’t improve.

The Heat quickly extended their lead in the second quarter as Boston’s shooting struggles continued from beyond the arc, going 0-of-10 from three-point range at one point.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, left, dunks as Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown defends during the second half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals Monday, May 29, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Despite glimpses of brilliance from Tatum, who played through pain, the Heat maintained a double-digit lead thanks to Martin’s exceptional performance. Although Bam Adebayo struggled and faced foul trouble, Miami still held an 11-point lead at halftime, 52-41.

Facing extinction, the Celtics used an 8-0 run to trim the Heat’s lead to 59-53. Game six hero Derrick White stepped up for Boston, contributing 15 points and tying Jaylen Brown as the Celtics’ leading scorer. However, defensive lapses prevented the Celtics from inching closer as the Heat took a 76-66 lead into the fourth.

The Heat began the fourth quarter by going on a 7-0 run led by Butler, extending their lead to 83-66, essentially putting the game out of reach.

Throughout the series, the Heat showcased the depth and talent of their roster. Martin, an undrafted small forward, stepped up. Gabe Vincent played through a sprained ankle, showing tremendous determination, while Duncan Robinson provided timely 3-pointers off the bench.

Then there’s Bam Adebayo, and although he struggled in game seven, the all-star has been instrumental to the team’s success with his ferocious two-way play.

The Heat’s path included upsetting the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and defeating the fifth-seeded New York Knicks in the second round.

The Celtics fought valiantly to extend the series, hoping to replicate the historic comeback of the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series. It seemed like destiny when Derrick White’s too-in at the buzzer gave them a 104-103 victory forcing a decider. However, the Heat remained resolute, relying on their experience and determination to secure victory in Game 7. It capped a tough spring where the city had its championship hopes crushed twice by South Florida. In April, the Florida Panthers rallied down 3-1 to stun the Boston Bruins, who set the regular season benchmark for wins(65 and points (135). Florida won game seven 4-3  overtime at TD Garden en route to a Stanley Cup finals appearance against the Vegas Golden Knights in a series that begins on Saturday.

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