Prior to 2015, when shooting a three-pointer was an idea adopted by nine perverts in the NBA and no one accurately crunched the number on how much more than two, anyone could commit the worst offense in the eyes of a coach or a declaratory pass. Three were lifting. You are supposed to get rims in transition, and anything else is considered a failure. Pulling at 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 from any distance was a bench-breaking offense, and pushing from 25 feet, where again, shooting from it was virtually illegal, was the main sin. Steve Curry’s tendency to nail the upper-the-break threes briefly dissipated dissent, and while there’s a good time to pull one off while running (the transition threes are much more open than most others), the theory is that you still have to go if you can rim. . Which is to say: when Jimmy Butler made the wrong choice in the biggest shot of the game, I was sure he was spreading that shit.
Miami were 11-0 when Butler decided to look and not clash after taking Harford off the coast. They played just three perfect minutes of defense, Kyle Lori apparently wasted the last bit of his energy to get a good shot for his team and Max Strauss made an offensive 27-footer can. Butler was also shooting for Miami’s first lead of the night when he pulled into transition, but quite clearly struggling Jeff Van Gundy said at the time, surviving with three requirements to take the other end of that trade. A defense by Butler would indicate that Harford threw stones at him from the rim, though still, you can’t take so much risk when a three is not going to be decisive. Butler plays every minute of the game and follows his Game 6 masterclass with another killer performance, but sometimes a series really captures a moment, and even though Butler’s shot wasn’t a buzz-beater, it felt like he was gambling and losing. And the heat season ends in an instant. The Boston Celtics are returning to the final for the first time since 2010 after surviving their second consecutive seven-game ordeal.
Boston was tested by a physical, strong defense, whose survival depends on their success. Foul in every game, they can’t call everyone Gambit, and they made enough shots and shotmaking showed that they never saw the lead in the hit. Miami often give the Celtics an 11- or 13-point lead, threatening to take the lead with just 8-0 or something like that. Each time, Boston caught their breath, carried on their offense and made good shots. Jayson Tatum was huge again, with double team and pick-and-roll coverage paying Miami to force him to stop, then nailing hard shots when he was given a place to shoot. The two iconic tattoo dramas from Game 7 both came at the end of the shot clock. Miami played 22 seconds of pants-on-fire defense, with just six minutes left to watch the Tatum Toss of Balance Three.
Ninety seconds later, the Celtics basically told everyone on the field that Tatum was going to shoot Jimmy Butler, and well, he was shooting Jimmy Butler.
Another successful game for Jillian Brown was to attack the rim and find easy buckets for her teammates, and her best game was to make Butler stand on the shot clock towards the end of the game. Brown, Tatum and Al Harford each played more than 44 minutes, and Boston’s short rotation was quite tough again tonight. As they head into a final match with the rested Warriors, an important point to talk about will surely be the Gauntlet of Celtic suffering. Two seven-game battles, back-to-back, had to take their toll, especially since Marcus Smart and Robert Williams were in and out of the lineup. Tatum has played 200 more minutes than Curry in the playoffs, and even Smart, who has been battling injuries throughout, has logged more post-season minutes than any other Warrior except Clay Thompson. The minutes they had to play were ugly and physical. Miami successfully brought the series to the ground, which was impressive for Boston to win and they had to win that way. They will be a more tired team, mostly because Miami has fought a hell of a fight.
No matter what Udonis Haslem says, the hit seemed to be dead after Game 5. Jimmy Butler managed 27 points across the game 3-5, and winning two of Miami at that point seemed more like a Celtics blow game. The initial dynamics seemed to indicate that Boston could withstand an alarming number of turnovers, without which the heat seemed lifeless. Instead, one of the best games of Butler’s career was Game 6, Score 47, and singles put his team in the series. Fighting through injuries, Butler had to post two straight perfect games for his team to win the series and he almost did.
The Celtics have lost four of their conference finals since appearing in their final, twice since Tatam and Brown joined the team, before reaching the final this season. Their path to the finals was an openly ridiculous one, a journey for which they had to figure out the most dramatic in-season turnaround of any NBA finalist I met. They have the juice to beat the Warriors and they can keep their foot in that series as favorites. Although Tatum and Brown are still very young, the Celtics should know from their Eastern Conference finals that these opportunities are not guaranteed. They have to win two huge games on the road to reach the final, and since they don’t have a home court against the Warriors, they have to find another way to win. They will, in essence, continue to prove the qualifications that led them to the finals.