BOSTON (AP) — Jimmy Butler scored 28 points and Caleb Martin had 26 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night to help the Miami Heat beat the Celtics 103-84 and turn back Boston’s attempt at an unprecedented comeback.
The Heat recovered after blowing a 3-0 lead in the series and advanced to the NBA Finals for the second time in four seasons. They will face the Western Conference champion Nuggets, with Game 1 in Denver on Thursday night.
Bam Adebayo scored 12 points with 10 rebounds for Miami, which is the first No. 8 seed to play for a championship since the 1999 New York Knicks. Top-seeded Denver has been waiting since sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers on May 22.
Butler was named the Eastern Conference finals Most Valuable Player, an award named after Celtics Hall of Famer Larry Bird.
Game 6 hero Derrick White scored 18 for Boston, which was hoping to become the first NBA team ever to advance after falling behind 0-3 in a best-of-seven series. Jaylen Brown scored 19 with eight rebounds but went 1 for 9 from 3-point range.
Jayson Tatum, who scored a Game 7 record 51 points against Philadelphia in the conference semis, had 14 points with 11 rebounds after turning his ankle on the first play of the game and limping through 42 minutes.
The Celtics led by five points early before conceding a 14-4 run to end the first quarter and then giving up 16 of the first 22 points in the second. Boston cut the deficit to seven points late in the third, but Miami took a 76-66 lead at the break and scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to pull away.
The Heat took the first three games – two of them in Boston – and needed just one more win to reach to the NBA Finals. None of the 150 teams that have opened a 3-0 lead in an NBA playoff series has ever failed to advance.
But the Celtics hyped themselves up by watching a documentary on the Boston Red Sox comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees on their way to the 2004 World Series. When the Celtics took the floor for Game 4 in Miami, ex-Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were sitting courtside.
Boston won Games 4 and 5 by double digits and had a cushy lead in Game 6 before Miami rallied back to take a one-point lead with 3 seconds left. The Heat appeared to clinch it when Marcus Smart’s desperation 3-pointer rimmed out, but White scored on a putback in the final 10th of a second to force a decisive seventh game.
Back at home, the Celtics greeted their fans with a pregame video intercutting highlights from the Red Sox comeback with their own. 2004 Red Sox catalyst Kevin Millar recorded a message to hype up the crowd.
But the heavily favored Celtics couldn’t repeat the feat.