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Jayson Tatum wins first ever ECF MVP, sends Celtics to NBA Finals

Jayson Tatum

Jayson Tatum

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

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Playing in their second Game 7 this postseason, the Celtics avoided a late run for the Heat and punched their ticket to their first NBA Finals since 2010. Jayson Tatum became the first ever Eastern Conference Finals MVP and took home the Larry Bird trophy. Al Horford made his first ever NBA Finals after having played 141 playoff games, which was the most without a Finals appearance. Let’s discuss who stood out for both teams and take a look ahead to Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

Boston 100, Miami 96

Tatum led the Celtics to the Finals by both taking and making big shots down the stretch. He scored seven of Boston’s 18 fourth quarter points, allowing him to finish with 26 in the game. All series long, Miami has prevented him from getting good looks, but he shot 9-for-21 in this game with four triples in 46 minutes of action. He only turned the ball over twice, which ended up being a low for the series. He also added 10 rebounds, six assists, a steal, and two blocks.

Jaylen Brown and Al Horford both ended up playing 44 minutes, as Ime Udoka stuck with those three and Marcus Smart (41 minutes) for the majority of the game. Brown finished with a 24/6/6 line with four turnovers on 8-for-15 shooting. After fouling out in Game 6, Brown had five fouls in this game. It’s his aggressiveness on the offensive end that led to all the fouls, as three of them came from charges/offensive fouls. We’ll see if Golden State is able to expose that in the Finals. Horford didn’t add much to the scoreboard (five points on 2-for-9 FGs), but his impact can never be understated. Just in the stat sheet, he added 14 rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks with no turnovers. He also made his fair share of timely plays and defensive stops. Now he’s headed to the Finals for the first time in his career, along with the rest of the Celtics’ rotation guys.

Smart finished with 24 points on 8-for-22 shooting with nine rebounds, five assists, two steals, and three triples. Miami gave him plenty of looks down the stretch, which ended up contributing to their late comeback. Over the final three minutes, Smart took all the shots. He went 0-for-5 from the floor and 0-for-3 from deep, but he did hit the final two free throws to seal the game.

Robert Williams and Smart were both listed as questionable before the game, but they shrugged off their ailments because it’s the playoffs. However, Williams didn’t play anywhere near the minutes that Smart did. Williams got the start but only played 15 minutes. Ime Udoka opted to roll with Grant Williams for 30 minutes, as he contributed 11 points, six rebounds, and a block. We’ll have to see how the rotation looks against another team that plays smaller in Golden State. The Time Lord’s minutes may depend on how much Steve Kerr plays Kevon Looney.

Derrick White played 19 minutes off the bench, finishing with eight points on triples with three rebounds and a block.

Miami’s dynamic duo really stepped up in this game. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo played 48 and 46 minutes with everything on the line and nearly completed an epic comeback. Butler scored a game-high 35 points on 13-for-24 shooting. He was unstoppable all game long and added in nine rebounds, a block, and a triple. He almost had a second 3-pointer that would’ve given the Heat a 99-98 lead with less than 17 seconds left. However, that rimmed out, which allowed Smart to hit two free throws and suck the energy out of FTX Arena. Butler really gave it his all over the final two games of the series, playing 94 of the 96 possible minutes. Adebayo basically played well in every other game of this series, which resulted in a solid night for him in this game. He finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists in this one. Those two combined to score 60 of the Heat’s 96 points.

The rest of the team struggled to put the ball in the basket. Kyle Lowry was the only other player to score in double figures with 15, but he shot 4-for-12 from the floor. He added in seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Max Strus scored eight points with eight boards, three assists, a steal, and two blocks. Victor Oladipo played 33 minutes off the bench, contributing nine points, five boards, and three assists.

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P.J. Tucker only played 17 minutes before he left the game and returned to the bench in a hoodie. He had been dealing with irritation in his left knee and was listed as questionable for the game, so it’s fair to assume that it was bothering him too much for him to continue. Tucker was one of five Heat players to be listed as questionable for the game, though only one player’s status was really in question. Tyler Herro missed Games 3-6 with a groin injury, but he gave it a go in this one. However, he only played seven minutes because of the injury. With a big payday supposed to come this summer, Herro didn’t have a great postseason.

NBA Finals notes:

The Celtics will travel to play Golden State on Thursday, June 2nd in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Warriors are returning to the biggest stage in basketball after missing out the past two seasons, while Boston will be playing for the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time since 2010. Golden State’s roster is filled with guys who have played in the Finals, while nobody on the Celtics have played in a Finals game. We’ll see how much experience pays off.

Robert Williams and Marcus Smart have been on the injury report, so we’ll see if the extra days off allows them to heal up and be ready for Game 1.

Steve Kerr told reporters that Otto Porter and Andre Iguodala will be slowly integrated in practice this week and could be ready for Game 1. The status of Gary Payton II is also in question for Game 1, as he’s been out for about a month with a fractured left elbow.

Hopefully the Finals will feature some more exciting games (like this one) instead of the blowouts that we saw throughout the Conference Finals.