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.

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."

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.

Tyler Herro will miss Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, but the Miami Heat are hopeful Jimmy Butler will face the Boston Celtics on Monday.

Herro sustained a groin injury during the Heat's 109-103 Game 3 win and will play no part as Miami attempt to take a 3-1 lead at TD Garden.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said: "We just had to be responsible and take the decision out of his hands.

"He really wants to be out there tonight. The trainers and Dr. [Harlan] Selesnick don't think that's the best idea just because of the intensity and everything, but we'll see.

"He's young, we'll treat him day-to-day, and we'll see what happens from here."

Butler has been suffering with inflammation of his left knee, but will warm up with the intention of playing in Game 4.

Spoelstra is also hoping Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain), Max Strus (right hamstring strain), P.J. Tucker (left knee irritation) and Gabe Vincent (left hamstring strain) will feature.

Celtic trio Jayson Tatum (stinger), Marcus Smart (sprained ankle) and Robert Williams III are listed as probable.

The Miami Heat warded off a gritty fightback from the Boston Celtics to win 109-103 on Saturday, reclaiming home-court advantage and taking out Game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics were down by 26 points in the first half and clawed their way back to make it a one-possession game down the stretch, but clutch baskets from Max Strus and Bam Adebayo were able to halt momentum.

Erik Spoelstra's side eventually saw the game out from the free-throw line.

With Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro off injured in the second half, Adebayo finished with 31 points on 15-of-22 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals in a big performance.

Jaylen Brown led the late charge for the Celtics, scoring a game-high 40 points off 14-of-20 shooting from the floor, but turnovers were critical as the team failed to take care of the ball.

Brown was responsible for seven of his own while Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart combined for 10 with the Celtics committing 23 turnovers.

Boston shot 37.5 per cent from three-point range but following a 39-14 first quarter, were facing an uphill battle.

The Heat scored 33 points off those turnovers in contrast to Boston's nine points, with double-digit margins for points in the paint (48-34) and bench points (26-16).

Butler came up with eight points and three rebounds as well as two assists and steals, but knee inflammation saw him miss the second half. 

Kyle Lowry's return to the floor was pivotal for the Heat, however, finishing with 11 points, six assists and four steals.

Jimmy Butler said the Boston Celtics "whipped our tail on our home floor" in their 127-102 beatdown of the Miami Heat in Game 2.

The return of Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart from a foot injury ignited the Celtics on the offensive end just as much as defensively, with the team hitting a red-hot 20-of-40 from three-point range.

Boston's five that played at least 30 minutes – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Grant Williams, Al Horford and Smart – shot 17-of-29 from long-range, and combined for 23 assists, which was two more than Miami had as a team.

Speaking to post-game media, Butler said the Celtics "tried to embarrass us", but pointed out that they were always going to be facing an uphill battle against such an outlier shooting performance.

"You do have to move on, but I don't like to move on from this. It has to hurt," he said.

"They tried to embarrass us – they did embarrass us. I think we got to realise that, or use it as fuel, but realise that the game can get out of hand when you're playing against a really good team like them that can score the ball and get stops.

"They made shots that they missed last game. That's just what it is.

"It's going to be hard to beat anybody when they shoot 50 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three. They were the more physical team overall, and they got one on the road.

"Overall, we just have to be better. We've got a tough job to do to go over there and win, but if they did it, we can do it as well."

He added: "I look at it as 'it can't get too much worse'. They whipped our tail on our home floor.

"I guess if they do it on their home floor it's supposed to happen, but I don't see us doing that again. 

"The first half has been brutal for us in both of these games, we just got to come out and play harder from the jump and be ready, because they be throwing some haymakers in the first half."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he did not feel like his side played poorly – but that it felt like the Celtics wanted revenge for Game 1.

"You definitely have to credit Boston," he said. "It's not just that they came in with great urgency and physicality – they did have that, for sure – they also played well. They played really well on both ends.

"We know what they're capable of defensively – they've done this to some very good offenses. I'm sure they were not happy with us putting up 118 in Game 1, and they came out very disruptive. 

"They got us out of our normal rhythm and flow, and the shot-making on the other end was very tough to overcome.

"You get to this point – in the Conference Finals – you just have very good teams. Teams without many weaknesses, it's great competition.

"This only counts as one, and that's what the experiences players and staff in the locker room understand. We don't like it, but they played extremely well."

The Boston Celtics rebounded from a disappointing Game 1 to thrash the Miami Heat 127-102 in Game 2 on Thursday.

With the win, the Celtics have tied the series at 1-1 and snatched home-court advantage, with Game 3 and Game 4 to take place in Boston.

In arguably their best half of the season, the Celtics were nearly flawless to open the game, shooting nine-of-11 from three-point range in the first quarter on the way to putting up two consecutive 35-point frames, leading 70-45 at half-time.

The Heat threatened to make things interesting in the third period as Jimmy Butler piled on 16 of his game-high 29 points but the Celtics had an answer every time, shooting 20-of-40 from three for the contest, including 17-of-29 from the five Boston players to play more than 30 minutes each.

Jayson Tatum finished with a team-high 27 points on eight-of-13 shooting with five rebounds and five assists, while Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart had 24 on eight-of-22 shooting with nine rebounds, 12 assists and three steals.

Jaylen Brown chipped in an efficient 24 points on nine-of-17 shooting, and Grant Williams was excellent once again for the Celtics with 19 points off the bench, shooting five-of-seven from the field, and was +37 in plus/minus over his 32 minutes. Only Payton Pritchard finished with a higher plus/minus, finishing plus +39 in his 23 minutes, scoring 10 points with two assists in Derrick White's absence.

After dominating the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics, averaging over 20 points per game on 60 per cent shooting, Bam Adebayo had his second straight disappointing showing. After posting 10 points and four rebounds in Game 1, he followed it up with just six points and nine rebounds. 

Adebayo is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds in the playoffs thus far, significantly down from his season averages of 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Jimmy Butler has assured he will sustain intensity against the Boston Celtics, following the Miami Heat's 118-107 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Butler was at his best for the Heat, finishing with 41 points on 12-of-19 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.

He also took 18 free-throw attempts and only two three-point attempts in comparison, attacking the basket at almost every opportunity.

Against a Boston team that can be just as physical and aggressive as the Heat, the six-time All-Star said he will thrive on it, but the individual stat line does not matter in relation to wins and losses.

"I like physicality. I want to run into people and see who falls down first, who's going to quit first," Butler said. at the post-game news conference.

"I think that's the style of basketball I like to play and so do they. I was zero-for-two from three tonight, I want to go zero-for-zero next game, because I just want to keep banging into people.

"I think I speak for my teammates, the Miami Heat organisation when I say I know what I'm capable of. I don't do this, score 40 points, I play the way that I play to win, by all means necessary. It just so happens that I scored 40, but if I score 40 and lose I'm gonna be really pissed off.

"I have so much trust in my teammates and I will continue to play that way. I've been a quote unquote scorer at other points in my career, and it didn't work out too well for me, so I'm glad that I have the guys that I have around me and with me."

Down by eight at the start of the second half, the Heat turned it around with a 39-14 third quarter in which they were able to get six steals and force the Celtics to none-of-seven from the perimeter.

Butler's 17 points and three steals as the Heat turned Game 1 around were critical, but he asserted that the team knew they needed to dial up the intensity on the defensive end before coach Erik Spoelstra even addressed them.

"It's crazy because he [Spoelstra] didn't have to say too much," he said. "We already knew what we were doing wrong – turning the ball over, not getting back. We're at home, we've got to play better basketball, as a team. We did that, went on a little run, but this was just a win.

"I've said it all season long, whenever we let our defense dictate our offense, we're a much better team – we get stops, get into the open floor, we whip that ball around to our shooters and that's the style of basketball we call Miami Heat basketball. Gritty, dog-like, worried about getting stops instead of worried about getting buckets."

Jimmy Butler scored 41 points including 27 in the second half as the Miami Heat's third-quarter charge helped them to a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 118-107 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

After trailing 62-54 at half-time, the Heat went on a 22-2 run early in the third quarter to storm ahead and never looked back from there. The Heat are 7-0 in the 2022 playoffs at FTX Arena.

Butler's 41-point haul was his sixth time in 12 playoff games where he has hit the 30-point mark. It was also his third 40-point night of these playoffs.

The Heat forward shot 12-of-19 from the floor, along with eight-of-11 in the second half, while he also had nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks in a remarkable all-round display.

Butler becomes the first player this postseason with at least 30 points and four steals in multiple games.

Gabe Vincent (17 points, three assists, three blocks), Max Strus (11 points including three triples, four rebounds, two assists, two steals) and Tyler Herro (18 points, eight rebounds, three assists) all provided good support.

The Celtics were left to lament their 39-14 third quarter, along with their 11-of-34 three-point shooting, cooling off in the second half.

Boston's two-of-15 (13 per cent) third-quarter field goal shooting was their worst in any quarter over the last four seasons. The Celtics only managed four points in the paint in the second half, having scored 42 in the first.

Jayson Tatum top scored for Boston with 29 points with two-of-nine from beyond the arc along with eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Jaylen Brown added 24 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, while the absence of Marcus Smart (foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols) was felt.

The Heat were also missing veteran point guard Kyle Lowry due to a lingering hamstring issue.

Miami's 12 blocks for the game, led by center Bam Adebayo (10 points, four rebounds, four blocks), was a joint franchise playoff record.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said the Eastern Conference Finals will be an old-school defensive slugfest, and that he feels the best two teams made it.

The Heat needed six games to triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Boston Celtics came back from 3-2 down against the Milwaukee Bucks to get the job done in Game 7.

As a reward for getting their series out of the way early, the Heat will have five days of rest before Tuesday's Game 1, while the Celtics have just one proper rest day between series.

Speaking to the media after Monday's practice, Spoelstra said it is shaping up as a series that will warm the heart of Heat president Pat Riley.

"Pat's [Riley] probably is going to enjoy this," he said. "This is like a throwback series. 

"If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on rock-solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. 

"So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins… really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it's fitting that we're moving into the conference finals.

"Boston has played as well as anyone in the entire league once they got to 2022. It's not by accident. They're playing very strong basketball. They do it on both ends."

Heat star Jimmy Butler was asked about his potential matchup against Jayson Tatum, and he had nothing but praise for the Celtics' best player.

"He's one of the best in the game right now," he said. "As much attention as he draws on the offensive end – and then I think what's really impressive is the way that he's picked up his defensive intensity. 

"You got to tip your hat to that and respect him, I think those are the guys that you want to go up against."

Two years after meeting in the 2020 Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics are on a mission to flip the script on the Miami Heat.

In that 2020 series, which the Heat won 4-2 in 'the bubble' to advance to the NBA Finals, the Celtics were the higher seed, and were playing in their third Eastern Conference Finals in the space of four seasons.

But in hindsight, it was Miami who were built to win that series, despite it being their first time past the second round since LeBron James carried them to the finals in 2014.

Jimmy Butler was invigorated in his first year in Miami, in his physical prime at 30 years old and was determined to show he was not at fault for pushing his way out of the Minnesota Timberwolves and being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers in the space of a year.

He was also supported by Goran Dragic, just two years removed from his lone All-Star appearance, who in the series averaged 20.5 points and 4.7 assists per game in 34 minutes.

As well as having two strong initiators, the Heat also had a complete mismatch in the form of Bam Adebayo against a Celtics team starting Daniel Theis at center, with no competent back-up. Adebayo averaged 21.8 points while shooting over 60 per cent from the field, with 11 rebounds and five assists per game, and was clearly the most dominant player in the series.

When taking into account an outlier 37-point showing from Tyler Herro on 14-of-of-21 shooting that single-handedly won Game 4 112-109 for the Heat – making it a 3-1 series lead instead of 2-2 heading back to Boston – it begins to become clear that there was not much the Celtics could do, given their personnel.

Fast-forward a couple of years, 22-year-old Jayson Tatum is now 24 and in the midst of a rapid ascension into the game's best players, 23-year-old Jaylen Brown is now 25 and has developed into a true number-two option, Marcus Smart is now 28 years old and the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and, more importantly, the supporting cast is built for the long-haul.

 

Replacing Theis with Al Horford may be the most consequential addition or subtraction on either side, with the potential to nullify the series-altering presence of Adebayo on the inside. Horford will also have help in the form of Robert Williams III – who became one of the best defensive players in the league this season – while Theis remains as a 'break glass in case of emergency' option.

Adding to the rise of the Celtics has been the emergence of Grant Williams as a reliable two-way player, capable of slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo while hitting over 40 per cent of his threes, as well as the trade to add Derrick White as a second defensively sound 'small' guard next to Smart.

For a team with a real defensive identity – willing to 'switch' every screen and allow their small guards to take on bigger assignments – being able to replace Kemba Walker with a trustworthy, stout defender completely takes away an avenue of attack for a sharp offensive team like Miami.

What it also means is that the Celtics will not have to waste any minutes on players who have no business in big playoff series – such as Brad Wanamaker and Semi Ojeleye, who combined for 21.8 minutes per game in the 2020 series.

A run to the NBA Finals would be fulfilling the promises of Boston's advanced numbers, which after the All-Star break had the Celtics as not just a legitimate title contender, but as the favourite, and a historic team.

During that stretch, the Celtics were the number one offense – with a gap to the Charlotte Hornets at number two – and the number three defense, with a net-rating of 12.7. The Memphis Grizzlies (7.6) were the only other team with a net-rating above 6.0.

For the Heat, Dragic has been replaced by Kyle Lowry, who is now 36 years old and recovering from his second hamstring injury of the playoffs, and the veteran presences of Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder have been replaced by a combination of Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the shell of Victor Oladipo.

Erik Spoelstra boasts arguably the deepest bench in the entire NBA, but this is playoff basketball, which generally comes down to each side's best seven players, nullifying their advantage on the back-end of their roster.

The identity of this Miami offense through the playoffs has largely relied on the brilliance of Jimmy Butler, who at 32 years old is putting together the best playoff run of his career, averaging 28.7 points per game on 52.7 per cent shooting, with 7.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals.

 

Miami's second-best scorer this postseason has been Adebayo, way down at 14.6 points per game compared to his 19.1 for the regular season.

Butler was perfectly matched up against the Philadelphia 76ers, who have no wing defenders capable of matching the Heat star physically – but the Celtics do not have the same problem.

The Celtics have at least four players – Tatum, Brown, G. Williams and R. Williams – who match up well with Butler, and they showed against the Milwaukee Bucks that they were more than happy to play straight-up defense and force one player to try and beat them with isolations all day.

If Miami cannot figure out a way to unleash a second scorer in a real way – be it Herro, Adebayo, or even Strus, who averaged 20.5 points in his two matchups against Boston this season – they may be playing straight into the Celtics hands. 

The one advantage Miami will have is the rest-factor. It will be five days since the Heat's Game 6 win against the 76ers, while the Celtics will only have one true rest day after handling their business in Game 7 on Monday night.

For the regular season, the Heat won all three of their games with at least three days rest, although the Celtics were the fourth-best team in the NBA coming off one day of rest (28-13, .683 winning percentage).

If the Heat can take advantage of their fresh legs and win Game 1, anything could happen, but ultimately, just like the Celtics were almost helpless in 2020, the Heat just may not have the horses this time around.

It almost feels as though using the Ron Burgundy 'boy, that escalated quickly' GIF would be a little too on the nose.

The NBA Conference semi-finals proved to be just as dramatic as we all hoped, with two of them going all the way to all or nothing Game 7s.

In the East, despite a bit of a comeback once Joel Embiid returned from injury, the Philadelphia 76ers were unable to halt the number one seed Miami Heat, while defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks are also out after going down in Game 7 to the Boston Celtics.

Over in the West, the Golden State Warriors overcame the Memphis Grizzlies in a tempestuous series defined by Ja Morant's knee injury, while a sensational performance from Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks saw them destroy the Phoenix Suns in their own backyard in Game 7 on Sunday.

They may not be the Conference Finals many predicted, but they will be absolutely covered in compelling narratives, so Stats Perform is here to take a look at what should be two fascinating contests to determine this year's NBA finalists.

Eastern Conference Final

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

Perhaps this pairing was to be expected given they are the one and two seeds respectively in the East, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo in their corner and an NBA championship to defend, many will have expected the Bucks to get the better of Boston.

The Celtics showed their mettle, though, in particular Jayson Tatum, who is averaging 28.3 points per game (PPG) in the postseason.

Tatum's 6.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game are supported by an impressive average of four turnovers as the 24-year-old has set about trying to drag his team all the way.

He has not been alone though, with Jaylen Brown averaging 22.2 PPG, while an unlikely hero emerged in the 109-81 win against the Bucks on Sunday as Grant Williams top-scored with 27, the first time he has done so for the Celtics. Williams hit seven of the Celtics' 22 made three-pointers in an incredible shooting barrage.

 

The Heat took full advantage of an Embiid-less Sixers in the opening games of their series with Philadelphia before losing their 2-0 lead, only to see it out 4-2.

Jimmy Butler shone throughout and is averaging 28.7 PPG in the playoffs so far, as well as 5.4 assists and 7.5 rebounds.

His 32 in Game 6 helped ease any nerves about going to a decider, while even the 40 he managed in defeat in Game 4 made the Sixers work harder than they should have had to.

The Celtics won two of their three meetings with the Heat in the regular season, but Miami were triumphant last time out in late March, winning 106-98 at TD Garden thanks to 24 from Butler and 23 from Kyle Lowry, who may not feature in Game 1.

Lowry injured his hamstring in Game 3 of the Heat’s first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, and is a doubt for the start of this series.

Western Conference Final

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors

Can you stop Luka Doncic, or do you just watch in awe and hope the ball pops before he can score?

That probably won't be the question Steve Kerr and the Warriors will be asking, but they will certainly have to come up with some way of dealing with the dangerous Slovenian.

Doncic is averaging 31.5 PPG from his 10 playoff games so far and was unsurprisingly trending on social media on Sunday as his own personal scoring was such that he was single-handedly matching the Phoenix Suns in the first half at Footprint Center.

His 6.6 assists and 10.1 rebounds per game in the postseason also show how dominant he has been, but that should not take away from the fine work going on elsewhere in Jason Kidd's team.

Having had to carry the Mavericks through most of the first round against the Utah Jazz in Doncic's absence, Jalen Brunson demonstrated his worth with 24 against the Suns in Game 7, while Spencer Dinwiddie posted 30 points of his own too.

 

The Warriors are unsurprisingly just as good at spreading the wealth, even if Stephen Curry – like Doncic – is leading the way with his 26.9 PPG in the playoffs.

The three-point assassin is tied with team-mate Klay Thompson for shots from beyond the arc, with both sinking 42 efforts in the postseason so far, which emphasises the importance of Thompson as well, who has averaged 20.4 PPG.

Jordan Poole is playing his part too with 19.3 PPG, including a 50 per cent success rate on field goal attempts, making 74 from 148.

Dallas may have the upper hand going into this one, not just because of their complete undressing of the Suns in Game 7, but also because they won three of the four games against Golden State in the regular season, with Doncic scoring 41 in their last meeting in early March.

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