The NBA got a two-season break from the Golden State Warriors.

Now, the Warriors are back in extremely familiar territory – the NBA Finals, where they will face the Boston Celtics in a mouth-watering series.

Golden State saw off the Dallas Mavericks in five games in the Western Conference Finals, reaching the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons.

And, thanks to what Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob described as a "two-tiered strategy", the Warriors may well be competing to remain on this stage in both the short and the long term.

The Warriors' success in returning to the Finals this season is down primarily to the three players that powered the start of their dynasty: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Curry has seven games of 30 points or more this postseason and is averaging 3.8 made threes per game, the most among players to have featured in at least 10 games in these playoffs.

Tied second on that list is Thompson (3.6), whose return after two years on the sideline has been a critical feel-good story for the Warriors. Despite his lengthy absence, Thompson has retained his ability to come through with clutch shooting, converting eight three-pointers in closeout games against both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Mavericks.

Meanwhile, Green, the undisputed heartbeat of the Warriors, has illustrated his all-round value in superb fashion. He is averaging 13.7 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists per 48 minutes in the playoffs, with his influence on both ends of the floor encapsulated by an average plus-minus of plus-6.1 that is seventh for players with a minimum of 10 postseason games under their belt.

Andrew Wiggins (+6.9) sits two spots above Green, the 2014 first overall pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers taking a belated chance to blossom on the big stages in emphatic fashion. Wiggins has produced a series of strong showings and delivered one of the defining moments of the postseason with his monster dunk over Luka Doncic in the Conference Finals.

"I think the Wiggins trade is the key to all of this," head coach Steve Kerr said recently, referencing the trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves that took 2022 All-Star Wiggins to Golden State.

"I don't know where we'd be without him. He's just been brilliant."

A substantial part of the Warriors' ability to brush aside the Mavericks was Kevon Looney's dominance on the boards. Looney had double-digit rebounds in three of the five games, including 18 in the decisive Game 5 meeting, having also racked up 22 in Game 6 against Memphis as the Warriors closed out the Grizzlies.

While the Warriors are back in the Finals in large part through the play of four members of the core who helped them establish a stranglehold over the league and the success of the Wiggins reclamation project, perhaps the most exciting aspect of Golden State's surge to this point has been the glimpse of the future.

That glimpse has come primarily from Jordan Poole, the Warriors' first-round pick in 2019, who after starting for much of the regular season has served as a hugely important sixth man in the playoffs, offering Golden State another shooter alongside Curry and Thompson whose remarkable athleticism also makes him a substantial threat attacking the rim.

Poole is third in effective field goal percentage and second in true shooting percentage for the playoffs (min. 10 games), his composure belying the 22-year-old's inexperience in the pressure cooker of the playoffs in a postseason campaign in which he has demonstrated why he is a strong candidate to be the centrepiece of the next Warriors era that does not feature their big three.

 

Also expected to be a part of that future are Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, selected seventh and 14th overall in last year's draft, the build-up to which was dominated by calls for the Warriors to package those picks to land another star after an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign ended with defeat in the play-In tournament.

Both Kuminga and Moody have played sparingly in the postseason, each averaging just over 10 minutes per game, but neither 19-year-old has appeared overawed when thrown into the fire.

The return to prominence with Curry, Thompson and Green, combined with the signs of progress from their proteges led Lacob to express a feeling of vindication in the Warriors' strategy.

Asked about rejecting the external pressure to trade their 2021 picks, Lacob told reporters: "I think the 19-year-olds that have played in the playoffs, the number of minutes over the history of the NBA or even in the Finals. I mean [Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody] haven't played very much and yet they're up there.

"Kobe [Bryant] I think was number one in terms of minutes for a 19-year-old. So the 19-year-olds just don't play deep into the playoffs or certainly in the Finals historically in the NBA.

"So the fact that we are where we are, and these guys have both contributed, maybe not as much as they would like to, they want to play more. Everyone wants to play more when you're a good player. But what they've done is great and what our coaches have done to get them ready for this level of play is great.

"I know we took, I, Bob [Myers, general manager], the organisation took some criticism from people that we should trade all our draft choices, that we had to get one more great player or whatever. I was very adamant about it. So was Bob. But that was not the path we were going down.

"We want to be good for a long time. We want to be great for a long time. And we felt that we already had our investment in our core great players. And they're still young enough to perform.

"Our success this year was always going to depend primarily on Steph, Klay when he came back, Draymond and Wiggins, you could argue. That was always fundamentally what the issue is. They're either going to be good enough or they're not, and we'll find out in the Finals too."

"I love what we've been able to do. We've been able to do this, call it a two-tiered strategy, call it whatever you want. But you've got your core guys that are going to get you this year. Meanwhile, you're going to develop these young guys. And I think we've done that."

Regardless of whether the Warriors overwhelm the Celtics to return to the NBA mountain top, Golden State's plan for this season has been an unequivocal success, and their next steps will be fascinating to watch as they continue to try to achieve the dual aims of setting themselves up to compete now and in a post-Curry and Co. future.

The trade winds may once again blow. With Wiggins having just one year left on his deal, there has already been some mention of him and James Wiseman, the 2020 second overall pick who has been kept off the court by injury, being packaged in a trade to land another star.

For now, such speculation can wait until after the confetti has fallen, and if it lands on Golden State, the Warriors will receive the ultimate reward for faith in both experience and youth that has quickly propelled them back to the league's elite and given them more potential options through which to stay there.

The Warriors are back. If they continue to execute the vision of Lacob and Myers, it could be a long time before they leave.

The Boston Celtics have made sure to do it the hard way en route to the NBA Finals.

Sometimes this can suggest a team's name is on the trophy; look at Real Madrid's remarkable run in European football's Champions League before winning their record-extending 14th title.

The Celtics, an organisation with similar prestige, will hope they can now follow suit.

After all, this is a team who reached the turn of the year with a 17-19 record under a rookie coach, then recovered to take the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Having worked so hard to secure home court in the second round of the playoffs, the Celtics lost to a Milwaukee Bucks outfit missing Khris Middleton in Game 5, falling 3-2 behind in the series and requiring another fightback.

Then the Celtics again failed to make the most of the Boston crowd in the Eastern Conference Finals, allowing the Miami Heat to return home for a Game 7.

Still, the Celtics made it through, and now they must take on the Golden State Warriors, back in contention and looking to extend the sort of dynasty Madrid would be proud of.

The Warriors are going to their sixth Finals in eight seasons; Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have played in each of them.

On the other hand, the Celtics are in their first Finals since 2010 – Curry's rookie season. Not a single member of the Boston roster has reached this stage before.

And yet, against the Warriors of all teams, the Celtics should have little to fear.

This is a battle of defense versus offense – Boston allowed a league-low 104.5 points per game in the regular season, while Golden State have scored a season-high 114.5 points per game in the playoffs – and it is a battle the Celtics have won numerous times in recent seasons.

In the 10 years since the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors came together, the Celtics are 10-10 against Golden State. Boston are the only team with a winning record (9-7) against Steve Kerr's Warriors, and they are a hugely impressive 7-3 in this matchup since drafting Jayson Tatum in 2017.

Before splitting this season's two-game series, the Celtics had won five in a row against the Warriors.

The key to this success has been defense. The Celtics have held both the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors (103.3 points per game) and Kerr's Warriors (104.4) to fewer points than any other defense. The same is true of Boston in Tatum's five years in the league, during which they have outscored Golden State 110.7-103.1 on average.

In Curry and Thompson, the Warriors boast two of the best shooters of all time, yet the Celtics have repeatedly forced them to take bad shots.

In the past five years, the Warriors have attempted just 83.2 field goals per game against the Celtics – only mustering fewer against the Detroit Pistons (80.8) – yet they have had a lofty 36.5 three-point attempts on average in these games. That means 43.9 per cent of Golden State's field goal attempts against the Celtics since 2017 have come from beyond the arc, attempting a higher percentage of their shots from deep against the Brooklyn Nets alone (44.1).

Given the talent in this Warriors team, shooting from range is not generally an issue, yet they have made just 31.8 per cent of those threes – again only performing worse against the Nets (31.4 per cent).

This has contributed to the Warriors making a meagre 43.1 per cent of their field goals against the Celtics, comfortably their worst rate against any team over this period.

Still, with the title on the line, the Warriors will undoubtedly back themselves to overcome this hurdle.

Curry (52.6 per cent), Thompson (50.0) and Jordan Poole (50.0) are all counted among the 10 players to attempt 10 or more contested shots (with the closest defender within two feet) and make at least half in this postseason.

Curry and Poole are two of only five players to make such a shot from three-point range, although that Golden State trio are a combined two-for-eight from beyond the arc in these circumstances – a record that does not look quite so bad next to Heat wing Max Strus' miserable one-for-seven shooting on contested threes. Four of those low-percentage shots came in the Celtics series alone.

The Warriors have not yet faced an elite defense in this playoff run, with the four best teams on that end of the floor operating in the East.

It figures that the best offense should emerge from the West, where teams averaged 109.2 points per game in the postseason, while the standout defense came out of the East, with playoff teams averaging 103.9 points.

The Finals will surely, therefore, be decided by what sort of series this becomes.

Tatum may be out to prove himself as one of the best players in the world, but the Celtics' success in keeping Curry, Thompson and Poole quiet is likely to be far more pivotal to their hopes.

As long ago as December, when his team were toiling, Celtics coach Ime Udoka explained: "The identity is to rely on defense, be a great defensive team and give ourselves a chance every night as far as that."

They have done that just about ever since – and now it is time to prove their winning identity can be a title-winning identity.

Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob has nothing but a burning desire to win against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

Lacob used to have a minority stake in the Celtics and was part of the ownership when Boston won the most recent of their 17 NBA championships back in 2008.

He bought the Warriors in 2010, and under his ownership the team have won three titles, in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

But a victory this time around would mean even more to Lacob.

"Boston was very important, and those guys were very helpful. They're friends to this day. Not too close friends, though," Lacob told reporters.

"I want to kill them right now, I'm going to be honest. I'm very competitive about this, and I'm sure they are, too.

"It's going to be a battle on the court and a little bit of a battle on the ownership level, too. We want to kill each other and we want to win, both teams. And they should."

Lacob looks back fondly on his time co-owning the Celtics, however, even if he is set on getting the better of Boston in the Finals.

He added: "It was very important. I think to run any business in life, actually, I think it doesn't even need to be a business, you just kind of need some experience, right?

"You need to be able to do some pattern matching. You need to see what works and what doesn't work.

"In this case, it's the same kind of thing. Boston was an experience for me, as a limited partner, to get to see how an NBA team ran, upfront, in person, and real.

"I got to know people like Danny Ainge, and Doc Rivers was the coach. I've got a ring from 2008, by the way, from the championship.

"Five years, I think it was; it was a tremendous experience with the basketball side and the business side. I learned some things I liked to do the way they did it and things that maybe would be different."

So here we are, after all that basketball in 2021-22, we come down to the final pair as the Golden State Warriors take on the Boston Celtics to decide the destination of this year's NBA championship.

It was a relatively smooth route for the Warriors after a 4-1 win against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, while the Celtics went to Game 7 for the second round in a row, eventually overcoming the Miami Heat.

Having been able to rest up since they sealed their place in the finals on Friday, Steve Kerr's team will be heavily fancied to win their first title since 2018.

Golden State were electric against Dallas, with all four of their wins being by a margin of at least nine, and even managing to overcome the outrageously talented Luka Doncic, winning Games 2 and 3 despite 40 or more points in both coming from the Slovenian.

It is no surprise that Stephen Curry is leading the way for the Warriors, averaging 25.9 points per game in the postseason, as well as 6.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

His three-pointer attempts have been a little wayward by his own very high standards, making 60 of 158 attempts in the playoffs, just three more than Klay Thompson (57 from 143 shots), who himself is playing more than just a support role.

Thompson is averaging 19.8 points per game, while Jordan Poole is not far behind with 18.4.

Andrew Wiggins also deserves credit for his contribution, averaging 15.8 and scoring 27 in the Game 3 win against the Mavs at the American Airlines Center, and a good example of how Kerr's team can get at you from anywhere on the court.

 

All that being said, the Celtics have shown themselves to be big-game players during the playoffs, overcoming both the defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks and the number one seeds in the East, the Heat.

Jayson Tatum has invariably been the main man, averaging 27.0 points in the playoffs along with 5.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Like the Warriors, though, Boston are able to spread the responsibility, with Tatum's 26 against the Heat in Game 7 supplemented by 24 each from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

The Celtics are in the finals for the first time since 2010, and it feels like they have shown the backbone needed to go all the way, even against a supremely talented Warriors side.

Ime Udoka could cement his legacy in Boston, admitting after overcoming the Heat they will need to go one better to be remembered, saying: "We don't hang or celebrate Eastern Conference championships in the Celtics organisation, so we all fall in line and appreciate that standard of excellence."

Udoka against Kerr could be the most interesting contest across the NBA Finals, but all over the court there are intriguing narratives and plenty of top-class basketball to witness.

Whoever rises to the top, they will surely be worthy champions.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors – Draymond Green

The outspoken 32-year-old said on his podcast recently that whatever happens, "the dynasty been stamped" for this Warriors team.

A fourth NBA title in eight years would be quite a convincing way to stamp it further, and Green is likely to play a big role if that is to happen.

In the playoffs, he has been averaging 2.8 turnovers, 8.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game. He racked up nine assists in the clincher against the Mavs, as well as sinking six of seven field goal attempts.

Boston Celtics – Al Horford

After a year each at the Philadelphia 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder, Horford came back to Boston to try and finally reach the NBA Finals, and he has done just that.

His ability to stop the opposition and tidy up attacks could well be key against an opposition with danger-men all over the place.

Horford has averaged 8.1 defensive rebounds in the playoffs, including 12 in the Game 7 win against the Heat, and managed three turnovers in three different games during that series.

KEY BATTLE – Will defense win the championship?

Following on from Horford's ability to snatch the ball in defense, these two were both in the top four in the league in the regular season for defensive rebounds, with Golden State second overall with 2,930, while Boston were fourth on 2,915.

One thing the Celtics will need to be aware of is the Warriors' ability to steal, making the fourth most in the league in the regular season (719), while the Celtics were only in 19th place (591).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Celtics will be especially confident based on recent match-ups, having won six of their past seven meetings with the Warriors, including a 110-88 win at Chase Center in their most-recent contest in March.

Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said he wanted to "honour" Kobe Bryant, after his side advanced to the NBA Finals on Sunday, defeating the Miami Heat 100-96 on Sunday.

For Game 7, Tatum wore an armband in the colours of the Celtics' long-time rival Los Angeles Lakers – a purple armband with his idol Bryant's number 24 for the Lakers stitched on in gold.

The 24-year-old went on to put up 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal in just over 45 minutes on the court, taking out the inaugural Larry Bird trophy for Eastern Conference Finals MVP.

While explaining the inspiration behind the armband, Tatum said afterwards how Boston securing their first finals appearance since 2010 and his MVP award all feels surreal.

"That was my inspiration, that was my favourite player," he said post-game. The shoes I wore in the last couple of games were dedicated to him and today, before I took my nap, I was watching some film and some moments from his career. I wanted to wear that armband to honour him and kind of share that moment.

"It's an honour. It still doesn't even seem real right now, but I'm extremely happy and grateful for all of this. Regardless of how long I've been in the league, I'm not too far removed from when I was in high school, dreaming about moments like this.

"I still feel like a kid, sometimes, in that I'm truly living out my dream. To be the first person to win this award, after Larry Bird, it still hasn't sunk in yet."

Boston's playoff opponents to secure the Eastern Conference title were also the three to eliminate them in each of the previous three seasons.

Aside from their progression past the Brooklyn Nets this season, the Celtics engaged in highly physical battles in series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Heat to get to the finals.

According to Tatum, those playoff losses inspired them to get out of the East this time around.

"It was the biggest game of our season and my career, and I just had faith that we were going to give it all we had, regardless of the outcome," he said. "To get over this hump in the fashion that we did it - obviously we took the toughest route possible, winning Game 7 to go to the championship on the road, it's special.

"Losing my first year and losing to these guys in the bubble, I think going through those tough times helped us grow, helped us learn and once we get in that situation again, we'd respond differently.

"In the moment, when you lose those series, obviously it hurts and it's tough, but you never forget it. I think that's what we all had in common, that we had all been through those tough times and we remembered how that felt, and we didn't want to have that feeling again leaving here tonight."

The Celtics will now face the Golden State Warriors, with Game 1 taking place in San Francisco on Thursday.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra holds nothing against Jimmy Butler's shot selection and praised the Boston Celtics, after they defeated his side 100-96 in Game 7 to progress to the NBA Finals.

Butler, who willed the Heat and the series back to Miami after 47 points in their Game 6 win, played all 48 minutes and their chance to win or tie the game with 17.1 seconds remaining.

Despite Al Horford's close-out, Butler had a clean look but his three-point attempt to make it 99-98 was short, handing the Celtics the game and the series.

Spoelstra would not have his perspective altered by the outcome, however, saying it was the right shot for the six-time All-Star to take with Miami's season on the line.

"It was fitting that it would come down to the last possession," Spoelstra said post-game. "I felt it had been an incredible storyline, for Jimmy to pull up and hit that three and I love that about Jimmy, it was the right look. I thought, as it was leaving his hands, for sure that was going in.

"You can't prepare for it. It's one of the worst feelings in the world to address a locker room after a game like this. When it ends, it ends in a thud.

"I just have so much incredible respect and love for everybody in that locker room and for what everybody gave to this team. When it's such a memorable season and post-season, it felt like five seasons in one."

Miami's loss on Sunday makes for the sixth consecutive season where the Eastern Conference's first seed does not advance to the finals.

Sunday's Game 7 played out in almost typical fashion, both for a Game 7 and between these two intense teams, with constant momentum swings and scoring runs.

Spoelstra was full of praise for the Celtics and counterpart Ime Udoka, as well as his own team, after what was a highly competitive and ultimately even series.

"It was a really fun group to be around, a really hard-edged group with all the qualities that we love, the good, the bad and everything in between. It's heartbreaking when it ends like this," he said post-game.

"You certainly have to credit the Boston Celtics and their team and coaching staff. Ime [Udoka] did such a tremendous job, building on what they've done the last six, seven years.

"They've probably done it they way that it's supposed to happen in this league. We tip our hats off to them. They are a heck of a basketball team, they can really defend at a high level, they're competitive. This was all about competition, and we faced a team that kind of matches the best qualities of what we do."

The Boston Celtics have advanced to the NBA Finals, defeating the Miami Heat 100-96 on Sunday and taking out the Eastern Conference Finals.

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart combined for 74 points, as Boston confirmed their 10th conference title and a 22nd finals appearance.

Tatum received the inaugural Larry Bird Trophy for Eastern Conference Finals MVP, coming into Game 7 with an average of 24.8 points.

The three-time All-Star finished Game 7 on the road with 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal, in what was an exceptional performance.

In a game of momentum swings, the Heat trailed as much as 17 points at one stage, but gained momentum with defensive stops and consequent transition baskets to bring it back to single digits.

Boston restored their buffer midway through the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run, before Jayson Tatum drained a massive step-back three-pointer deep in the shot clock with just under six minutes remaining.

The Heat fought to get it to a one-possession game, and after backing up Max Strus' triple with a defensive stop, had the ball with 17 seconds left.

Jimmy Butler, who willed the Heat and the series back to Miami with 47 points in Game 6, played all 48 minutes and had the chance to either tie or win the game with what was effectively their final possession.

He opted for the latter but his three-point attempt was short, with Al Horford's rebound confirming the result and series.

The Celtics will now face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, with Game 1 to take place on Thursday.

Tyler Herro will return from injury for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals as his Miami Heat host the Boston Celtics.

Herro, who won this season's Sixth Man of the Year, has missed Game 4, Game 5 and Game 6 with a groin injury, but was given a chance to prove his fitness with an NBA Finals berth on the line.

The 22-year-old guard averaged 20 points, five rebounds and four assists per game in the regular season, shooting a career-best 39.9 per cent from long range on a career-high 6.7 attempts per game.

He has scored in double-figures in eight of his nine playoff games this season, and the Heat won two of the three games he was present for in this series against the Celtics.

His return will likely see Caleb Martin's role reduced to zero, while one of Victor Oladipo or Gabe Vincent should also see reduced minutes.

Jayson Tatum is full of confidence that the Boston Celtics will bounce back against the Miami Heat and seal a place in the NBA Finals.

Jimmy Butler turned in one of the great playoff displays for the Heat on Friday as a 111-103 away win forced the Eastern Conference Finals series to Game 7, tied at 3-3.

Butler scored a playoff career-high 47 points, claimed nine rebounds and provided eight assists, with 17 of his points coming in the final quarter.

While the momentum might now be with the Heat, who have home-court advantage for the final game of the series, Tatum believes the Celtics can step up.

Asked what his confidence level was heading into Game 7, Tatum replied: "On a scale from 1-10 – 10. It shouldn't be any less than that, right? You know, it's the last game. This is what it's all about. 

"On a scale from 1-10, it's a 10 for my confidence level in myself and the group.

"It's no secret, it's Game 7. A trip to the NBA Finals – there's a lot on the line.

"A couple of us have been in this situation before, so we know what's at stake, we know how much this means to everybody. We know that going into the game."

Tatum led the way for Boston, scoring 30 points and finishing with nine rebounds and four assists, though he only made one shot in the fourth quarter while Butler took hold at the other end.

"I think it was just in the flow of the game, and how the game was going," Tatum said.

"Obviously I've got to watch the film, and things like that, but I think being out there, and the feel of the game, I was drawing a lot of attention.

"I was trying to find a mismatch, obviously, and when I find it, they sent a double, so I'd find the open man. I think it was just kind of how the flow of the game was going."

Miami Heat point guard Kyle Lowry gushed over the performance of teammate Jimmy Butler as they avoided elimination with a 111-103 Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics, tying the series at 3-3 with Game 7 headed back to Miami.

Butler played arguably the greatest game of his career in the must-win fixture, racking up 47 points on 16-of-29 shooting, including going four-of-eight from long range and 11-of-11 from the free throw line. 

He added nine rebounds, eight assists, four steals and a block, becoming the first player since Michael Jordan in 1988 to have multiple games of at least 40 points and four steals in the same series.

After only producing a combined 14 points and eight assists in the three games he played this series, Lowry was superb, scoring 18 points and dishing 10 assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

Speaking to post-game media, after Butler said he "did decent throughout the game", Lowry made it evident what he thought of his teammate's performance.

"[Butler was] f****** incredible – my bad, don't fine me NBA, that was really my mistake," he said.

"I just think he's such a humble basketball player, and the work he does put in – I witness it. 

"It's incredible to have a guy like him next to me. I've played with some great players, and he's one of the best players I've played with. 

"To do it on this stage – Game 6, win or go home, do or die – I wouldn't want to lace them up with many other people than this guy."

He later touched on his own struggles, and how he overcame them with everything on the line.

"I'm never going to make an excuse – I've played bad before – and I have opportunities to redeem myself," he said.

"I've got great guys in the locker room, great guys in my team, great organisation, great people in my life who just support me.

"Tonight was one of those chances – I think coach would have said it's a 'legacy game' – and I think having a guy like [Butler] next to me helped that."

Butler – as well as imploring the league to fine Lowry for his profanity, in jest – highlighted a phone call he had with Heat legend Dwyane Wade in the lead-up.

"D-Wade never hits me [up] until his voice is really, really needed – and it was," he said.

"I texted him and told him I appreciate him for it, just letting me know to go out there and continue to build on that legacy, and make sure we win… it just feels great to get one on the road.

"I think we just did our job – we've been saying it this entire series. It's not finished yet, we've got Game 7 at the crib, and we need to win."

Jimmy Butler played the game of his life to lift the Miami Heat to a 111-103 win away from home against the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday.

The win keeps the Heat's season alive, tying the series at 3-3, with Game 7 heading back to Miami on Sunday.

Butler had complete control of the game throughout, scoring 21 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing six assists – and that was just in the first half, single-handedly carrying the Heat to a 48-46 lead at the long break.

He went on to finish with a playoff career high of 47 points on 16-of-29 shooting (four-of-eight from three, 11-of-11 free throws) with nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals – scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter – as he played 46 minutes, including the entire second half.

Butler was the driving force for the Heat, but they shot the ball well as a team, hitting 15-of-35 three-pointers (42 per cent) as Kyle Lowry and Max Strus hit big shots when they were needed, combining for seven made threes.

Lowry, after a combined 14 points and eight assists in the three contests prior to Game 6 he was healthy for, scored 18 points (five-of-14 from the field, four-of-nine from deep) and dished 10 assists, while Max Strus hit three-of-eight from long range for his 12 points.

Jayson Tatum finished with a strong stat-line, scoring 30 points with nine rebounds, four assists and two steals, but he had seven turnovers, only attempted 12 field goals (nine-of-12), and only scored one field goal in the fourth quarter when the Celtics were desperate for their superstar to impose his will.

Derrick White was arguably the Celtics' best performer, scoring 22 points (seven-of-14 shooting, four-of-seven from three) with five assists and three steals off the bench, while Jaylen Brown was also solid, scoring 20 (six-of-13 shooting) with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Ultimately, it will be remembered as Butler's greatest performance, attempting more field goals than Brown and Tatum combined, while having the best defense in the NBA entirely focused on him, and delivering efficiently from all areas while the lights shined their brightest.

With his Game 6 showing, he became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1988 to have multiple games in a playoff series with at least 40 points and four steals.

Jimmy Butler is confident the Miami Heat can turn things around after falling 3-2 behind to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami must now win back-to-back games after slumping to a 93-80 loss on Wednesday, despite having taken a 42-37 half-time lead.

Boston can seal the series on home court on Friday, but Butler is determined to take it to a Game 7 decider on Sunday.

"Besides the fact that anything is possible, we know what we are capable of," he said.

"We know we can play some really good basketball, and we know that we are going to play some really good basketball.

"It's going to have to start in this next game up in Boston. But I just think that we know that we can win."

Butler left Game 3 early with a knee problem and has since been 7-of-32 from the field in consecutive losses.

However, he was in no mood to make excuses for his poor showing.

"It doesn't matter; if I'm out there, I've got to do better," he said. "I've got to find a way to help us win, and I haven't been doing that.

"I'm fine. My knee is okay. I've just got to do better. It's no excuse."

Team-mate Kyle Lowry struck a similarly defiant tone as he sought to issue a rallying call ahead of a crunch clash in Boston.

"We have to continue to just keep working," Lowry said.

"It's the first to four, so we have to go into a hostile environment, and it will be amped up, but I like what our team can do.

"I like the opportunity that we have, and we've got to go in there and fight."

Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown insisted his side will continue to win games with their defense after defeating the Miami Heat 93-80 on Wednesday.

The Celtics recovered from a disappointing first half to take a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up a chance to clinch the series and an NBA Finals berth on their home floor.

Boston scored only 37 points in the first half, shooting 25 per cent from beyond the three-point arc, but only trailed by five points at the main interval.

Brown asserted that their defence is critical in limiting the damage when they are not clicking on the offensive end, keeping the team in games.

"Our defence is key," he said after the win. "Every night we come out and hang our hat on that side of the ball. It was great to have, even in a limited role, Marcus [Smart] and Rob [Williams III], to be able to be out there, because their presence on that side of the ball is felt.

"Every night we give ourselves a chance with our defence. We didn't play great in the first half but we only gave up 42 points. Kept us in the game, we were down five, got settled in the second half and the game opened up and it was over from there.

"Our defence is what continues to win us games and we've got to keep hanging our hat on that defensive side of the ball."

In what has been a primarily defensive series, Game 5 was no different, with Miami generating a great amount of offensive impact from their defensive stops.

Brown was a prominent figure in that regard, coughing up four of Boston's 10 turnovers for the half as the team shot 38.2 per cent from the floor.

The 25-year-old took over in the second half, however, not turning the ball over once while scoring 19 points off eight-of-12 shooting.

Post-game, he said there was little variation in approach, despite a dressing down in the first half from Celtics coach Ime Udoka.

"We knew if we took care of the basketball, we would get some open opportunities and knock them down," Brown said. "Just continue to play basketball and be aggressive, that's why basketball is 48 minutes.

"I think he [Udoka] was talking to the whole team. I wasn't the only person to have some turnovers but it is what it is. I'm going to keep being aggressive, keep getting into the paint and making them stop me.

"Miami do a really good job of slapping down, reaching and grabbing and making it tough for you, so it's a little bit of both. I've got to do a better job for sure, but overall as a team, we've got to do a better job too."

The Boston Celtics claimed critical home-court advantage and a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, earning a gritty 93-80 Game 5 win against the Miami Heat on Wednesday.

In all four quarters the Celtics held the Heat to 23 points or fewer, but the offensive side of the ball was also far from clicking early on.

The Heat led 19-17 at quarter-time and after winning the second frame 23-20, they held an incredibly low-scoring 42-37 lead at the long break.

In the first half, both teams shot under 39 per cent from the field and 26 per cent from three-point range, but the Heat were winning the physical battle on the boards, pulling in nine offensive rebounds to just two for the Celtics.

The two teams also combined for just six fast-break points in the first half, illustrating the slow, grinding pace of play as both defences locked in, forcing better ball and man movement.

Back in Game 1, also in Miami, the Heat who came out of the locker room for the third quarter and went on a rampage to swing that game, but this time the shoe was on the other foot.

The Celtics doubled up the Heat in the third period, winning it 32-16 as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford found rhythm on the offensive end.

Boston led 69-58 after three quarters, and extended that lead to 23 points in the opening minutes of the final frame, as Brown knocked down three big triples.

After a first half where he was the subject of plenty of criticism for his loose ball handling – with four first-half turnovers – Brown made the difference after half-time, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting and five-of-nine from long range. He also had no turnovers in the second half, and the biggest dunk of the game.

Jayson Tatum was also at his playmaking best, with 22 points on a mediocre seven-of-20 shooting, but he added 12 rebounds and nine assists, consistently creating opportunities for shooters off the dribble and showing advanced ability to make reads as play unfolded.

The real story of the Celtics' success was their ability to take away the three-point line for the Heat, though.

With Jimmy Butler's jump shots not falling – finishing with 13 points on four-of-18 shooting – Miami simply had no avenue to reliable outside scoring.

The Celtics' ability to chase hard over the top of screens and dribble hand-offs made life miserable for Max Strus and Duncan Robinson, taking away their catch-and-shoot opportunities and turning them into dribblers, far outside their comfort zones. 

Strus finished zero-of-nine from the field, missing all seven of his three-point attempts, while Robinson was four-of-12, including three-of-10 from long range. As a team, the Heat were just seven-of-45 (15 per cent) from beyond the arc.

Instead, the Celtics dared the Heat to beat them inside, banking on the stoutness of their terrific interior defensive duo of Horford and Robert Williams III. That pairing combined for 17 rebounds, five blocks, two steals and just one foul.

Game 6 will head back to Boston, meaning the first-seeded Heat need to win on the road to save their season and force a Game 7.

The Boston Celtics will receive a big boost for their crucial Game 5 clash against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, with Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart returning to the line-up.

Smart missed Game 4 after suffering an awkward ankle injury in Game 3. 

Adding to the Heat's problems is the fact that Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro will not return for Game 5, having not recovered from the groin strain that also kept him out of Game 4.

With each side missing one of their key players, the Celtics were buoyed by the performance of backup point guard Derrick White, who posted a handy stat-line of 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals in his first start since missing Game 2 for the birth of his child.

White's performance – especially on the defensive end – will likely cement his position in the rotation above fellow bench guard Payton Pritchard as Smart returns to the equation.

On the other side, it was Victor Oladipo shining off the bench as he tried to fill Herro's shoes, with the former All-Star scoring 18 of the Heat's first 28 points in Game 4, going on to finish with 23 points, six assists and four rebounds. 

He also had a plus/minus of plus four from his 30 minutes, meaning the Celtics won the 18 minutes he was off the floor by 24 points.

Game 6 will head back to Boston on Friday, before a potential Game 7 back in Miami, if required.

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