Celtics

Celtics run out of gas, fall to Heat in Game 7

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Celtics run out of gas, fall to Heat in Game 7

MIAMI Balanced scoring. Solid defense. An unexpected role player stepping up to the challenge, the moment that is a Game 7 on the road.

For long stretches, the Boston Celtics were playing their kind of game.

And then ... it all fell apart as the Celtics suffered a fourth quarter slump at the absolute worst time, and it ultimately would prove to be their undoing as the Miami Heat pulled away for a 101-88 win.

Trailing 82-81 after a Ray Allen 3-pointer, Miami closed the game with a 20-6 run and never looked back as the C's failed repeatedly to make the necessary shot or get the defensive stop they needed.

Miami moves on to the NBA Finals for the second straight season and will face the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder with Games 1 and 2 in Oklahoma City Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Celtics' dream season came to a crashing end and with it, the growing prospect that Saturday night's loss would be the last game played together by the C's Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

As Garnett checked out of the game with 28.3 seconds to play, Garnett went down the bench giving a hug and embrace to all his teammates and coaches.

Following the game, there was the usual man-hugs and embraces among the players for both teams, with the C's wishing the Heat luck and the Miami players giving the Celtics props for a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire series.

As much as LeBron James (31 points, 12 rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (23 points) were praised for their play, it was the play of Chris Bosh (19 points) that proved to be the difference-maker in Game 7.

His ability to knock down 3-pointers and help better space the floor for Miami was too much for the C's to handle.

Although Rajon Rondo (22 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds) had another big-game performance offensively, there were just too many times in which he and the rest of the Celtics' perimeter defenders were broken down defensively which forced the C's interior players to provide help defense.

That left Bosh as well as Shane Battier (12 points, 4-for-9 on 3s) open far too often if the C's were to have a shot at winning a game of this magnitude.

Boston led most of the first half, with Miami taking its first lead of the third quarter on a jumper by Dwyane Wade that gave the Heat a 63-62 lead.

The two went back and fourth the rest of the third quarter which ended with a 73-all tie.

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Coaches in all sports will tell you that winning is not easy.
 
Making the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak even more impressive is that a number of the victories have involved Boston turning to some unlikely sources of production.

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And that has provided a glimpse into a franchise that’s getting the best of both worlds: quality play from its core group while developing reserves who have contributed to the team reeling off 16 straight wins in a variety of ways.
 
Because coach Brad Stevens has gone deeper into his bench this season than past years, it has created a roster with minutes more evenly distributed and with that, less wear and tear on the bodies of key players.
 
And while this team is led by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, there has been at least one other Celtic to emerge as a top-three performer every night...and often it’s not the same player.
 
“Much more unpredictable now,” a league executive texted to NBC Sports Boston. “That number three guy, is it [Jaylen] Brown? [Jayson] Tatum? Sometimes it’s Marcus [Smart]. You don’t know who it’s going to be because a lot of times, I don’t think they [Celtics] know who it will be. It’s why they’re so good, man.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game in Miami with the Celtics trying to push their winning streak to 17:

KYRIE FOR MVP
It’s one thing for the home crowd to get into the ‘M-V-P’ chants when you’re at the free-throw line. But it’s a completely different matter when those same cheers are being heard on the road. That’s where Irving was following the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas, a game in which Irving dropped 47 points, 10 in overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if another strong game by Irving will lead to another serenading of ‘M-V-P’ chants for the most dominant player on the team with the league’s best record.


 
TURNING DOWN THE HEAT
The streak is the talk of the NBA right now, but streaking was going to be part of the conversation leading up to tonight’s game regardless. The Celtics come into tonight’s game having won eight in a row over the Heat, their longest current winning streak over any team. Boston has dominated this matchup for years, posting a 70-44 record all-time against Miami in the regular season.
 

DUKE CONNECTION
College basketball just kicked off and Duke is once again among the game’s top teams, a school that consistently produces NBA talent at a relatively high level. That’ll be very apparent tonight when you consider this Boston-Miami matchup features three players (Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum for Boston, Justise Winslow for Miami) from Duke who will all be in the starting lineup and a fourth (Boston’s Semi Ojeleye) who attended Duke but later transferred to SMU.


 
JUSTISE WINSLOW
Every front-office executive has that one player they tried – and failed – to acquire that, in hindsight, not getting him was a really good thing. Winslow is that guy for the Celtics. While he hasn’t been necessarily a bust, his impact at this level hasn’t been enough to have warranted all the assets Boston was willing to part with on draft night in order to move up and select him. Still, he’s healthy now and starting to play better which is evident by his numbers in most offensive categories on the rise, while his defense has been relatively solid.
 

THREE-POINTERS
The Heat have made the 3-point shot a much bigger part of their offense this season, evident by Miami ranking seventh in the league in 3-point makes (11.2) this season. In Boston, one of the keys to their top-ranked defense has been their length, which has come in real handy defending the 3-pointer. In fact, Boston has limited opponents to just 32.1 percent shooting on 3’s this season, which ranks third in the league.

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Heat in Miami. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Will Celtics be drained by emotional comeback win Monday in Dallas?

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

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