1. You might not be able to script a more Game 7 start to this Game 7. A raucous crowd. Tons of energy. High stakes. And nobody could make a shot.
Boston opened 9-4 – with Jayson Tatum, taking just 13 shots all night, notably turning an ankle on the first possession of the game – in a stretch that took a full five minutes, but Miami found a couple threes and pick-six turnovers to push them to a 12-2 run as the Celtics opened the game 0-of-12 from three. Not a whole lot of rhythm for either side, the HEAT just making their precious few good looks at jumpers – the crowd audibly groaned or sighed, depending on your set of ears, when Caleb Martin got an open look at a three in transition – while Bam Adebayo’s constant switches flattened out every Boston pick-and-roll available.
Just over a minute into the second, it was 27-15 HEAT. A few minutes later, 38-21, Miami again doing that thing they sometimes do when they make half of their threes while Boston did the thing they do when they turn the ball over in a way that feeds Miami’s offense, all while Martin (14 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the first half) continued to be one of, if not the, best players on the floor. Mixing in zone, the HEAT, a team that typically shrinks the floor as well as anyone, had the court absolutely shrunk on Boston, always ready with an extra body to get in the way of a drive. When Adebayo picked up his third foul with a few minutes left in the first half, Boston started to make their move only to be answered by a pair of Jimmy Butler scores, including a fading three in the right corner. Miami by 11 at the break, with Boston 4-of-21 from deep, and it very well could have been more given how they had controlled the pace of play.
Butler opened the second half with, of course, another three. Another score later, another stunned reaction by the crowd, and it was Miami by 16 – as in control of the game as they have been at any point in this series. Naturally, that’s exactly when the Celtics started to make their push, with Derrick White leading the way from the outside-in. If it weren’t for more tough shotmaking, including pull-up and fadeaway mid-rangers from Martin, things would have essentially been tied. Instead, the lead was eight, staying that way as Boston was getting stops but not the requisite scores. Back to ten before the fourth, thanks, again, to more threes and more, and more, and more Martin.
Another Martin (26 points on 16 shots) three and Butler jumper (28 points on 28 shots and The Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP Trophy) to open the fourth, back to 17 with 10:50 to play. Boston (9-of-42 from three) never got back within single digits, the crowd almost entirely silent through the final minutes, as the HEAT avoided being on the wrong side of history. One of the most improbable – from a certain point of view – and unbelievable runs in league history continues as Miami marches on to Denver and the NBA Finals.
2. Caleb freaking Martin – which may be how he’s known in Boston from now on. How much more can you possibly say about him? Every other player on this team has had their ups and downs in this series, while Martin hasn’t just been steady, he’s been steadily spectacular. His defense at the top of the zone has been a massive added value, to be sure, as it has been all year, but it’s the offense that continues to put his team over the top. It didn’t matter what the shot was – a drive, a pullup jumper, a three, off however many dribbles – he had one ready for every Celtics push.
Reminder that while Martin was efficient in the regular season, he only scored 9.6 points per game largely due to a relatively miniscule usage rate. His usage hasn’t even jumped that much against the Celtics, he’s just made the most of every single touch, driving the Celtics, taking guys one-on-one in the mid-range or draining hesitation threes.
There is a long, long history of HEAT role players stepping up in the playoffs. If there wasn’t, they wouldn’t have had the success that they have had. This run, and this series in particular, that Martin is on stands toe-to-toe with anyone that has come before him. This is the stuff legends are made of.
3. If you were to put together a Greatest Hits reel of everything Miami has done well in this postseason, it would look something like this Game 7. There was Erik Spoelstra mixing in zone at all the right times. There was Adebayo switching out onto every player on the floor, leading the floor-shrinking regime that turned Boston over at the most opportune times. There was Boston continuing to be flummoxed by the HEAT’s constant movement on offense, a shooter always springing free in ways that either created shots or a titled defensive unit.
But nothing, beyond Martin, will stick in the mind as much as Miami sustained shotmaking prowess. It doesn’t matter if they were the best or the worst shooting team in the regular season. It doesn’t matter if their shots were contested or open, off the dribble or off the catch. Throw the Shot Quality out the window. They just kept making shots, all kinds of shots in every shape and size, in such a way that would be rare for any team in the history of the league.
It’s the threes, of course, that hurt Boston the most. In a series that Miami had games shooting 51.6, 54.3, 39.1 and 46.7 percent from deep, the capped things off with 50 percent on 14-of-28. The paint may have been a struggle at teams when Boston locked in, but the threes were always there, especially on the road. Incredible, historic stuff.
Lastly, it turns out Game 6 was the aberration in a series where the team that made more threes and had fewer turnovers, as with Miami going +5 on threes and -3 on giveaways made it so the team that won both categories finished the series 6-1.