Game 7 of Boston vs Miami was in danger of being a dull affair. The Celtics controlled the game – their offense fluid and their defense limiting. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were getting theirs, but the rest of the Heat were firmly under the Celtics’ heel.
Boston was up, 98-85, with three and a half minutes to go. They had a clear path to the Final, until they didn't. Miami clawed their way back – Kyle Lowry's heavily-contested step-back jumper snowballed into a 30-foot 3-pointer from Max Strus that cut Boston's lead down to two, 98-96, with less than a minute left.
The final minute became a novela. Let’s go over the dramatic finish to one of the best games of this postseason.
Good shot, bad shot?
The Heat earned a last crack at saving their season. After Strus’ triple, Miami got a stop in the following possession.
Butler grabbed the rebound and surveyed the floor. He had a slight advantage of transition on his side as Boston’s defense backpedaled and settled into uncomfortable positions. Al Horford was stuck on Butler with his teammates occupied by shooters in the corners.
Butler stutter-stepped, then pulled up for a triple with Horford a good five feet away from putting up a good contest. The shot fell short. The Heat fell short of what could have been the second best comeback in franchise history, right behind the Ray Allen miracle of the 2013 Finals.
The ensuing conversation on TV and social media revealed just how results-oriented we’ve become. “Did Butler make the right decision?” was the question of the day and everyone had an opinion. The surface stats folks had it as a mistake. Butler was a subpar 3-point shooter, shooting 24.0 percent from deep in three seasons with Miami. Disregard the fact that Butler went 4-for-8 from deep in Game 6 or that he was 1-for-3 before that shot yesterday, it was a hasty decision for some.
Discourse in the time of hot takes has become shallow. Jimmy Butler proved in this postseason that he was a superstar. He was the best player in every series that he played in. This Heat team, with injuries to key players like Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, and Tyler Herro, was dragged to the absolute maximum – the very edge of their potential – by Butler, who himself was hobbled with knee pain.
If Butler, the guy that dropped 41 and 47 points in two previous wins and had 35 up to that point in Game 7, wanted to take the triple, he had earned every right to do so. He was the reason there was even a Game 7. He earned the right to decide Miami’s destiny.
The Ultimate 80-20 guy
Marcus Smart was one of the best, most important players of this seven-game odyssey. He was every bit the Defensive Player of the Year, forcing Miami to veer away from his pesky presence, lest they get drawn into a turnover, a bad shot, or whatever chaos Marcus Smart concocted.
Game 7 was also a study of everything that made Smart a polarizing player. Eiighty percent of Smart’s game was everything you'd want out of a top-tier role player. The remaining 20 percent was everything you didn’t want.
Sometimes that 20 percent bubbles to the surface and almost costs you the game.
Smart was unbelievably hot in Game 7, sparking a third-quarter Boston run that gave them a 15-point lead. This gave him the confidence to keep taking more shots, for better or worse. With other role players, fans would 100 percent embrace a sudden hot streak. With Smart, an early hot streak could signal some unwanted late chicanery.
During the final 3:20 when the Heat made their 11-0 run, Smart took five shots. Jaylen Brown, who had 24 points, took one. Jayson Tatum, the eventual Eastern Conference Finals MVP, took zero.
Granted, some of the looks Smart got were wide open. Some, like his drive against three Heat defenders that preceeded the Butler miss, were downright horrid attempts.
You take the small amount of bad that comes with the good of having Smart on your side in big games. You just hope it doesn't cost you the game.
Al Horford doesn’t have to be the guy with the most playoff games with no Finals appearance anymore.
Horford, a consummate professional and Hall of Fame teammate by all accounts, had the most intense reaction after the win, collapsing to the floor after the buzzer. Horford had made a career of playing in some of the best good-but-not-great teams in the past decade – from the four-All-Star Atlanta Hawks to the surprising 2018 Celtics team.
Speaking of the 2018 Celtics team, Tatum and Brown finally proved that they could play together. It seemed that breaking up this young duo was the mission for sports talk television prior to their run in January. Luckily, Boston never budged. Tatum and Brown are the spiritual redeemer of past young duos broken up too soon like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady in Toronto.
Ime Udoka also has to have a massive monkey off his back now. His entrance was seen as a disruption. He turned out to be the glue that held this team together through their rough patches. He coached this team past the three teams that eliminated them in the past three postseasons. Now, he gets a chance at a ring in his first season as an NBA head coach.