The Celtics had a chance at history, but fell short. And they have nobody to blame but themselves.
At home in a Game 7 with a shot to be the first NBA team to ever overturn a 0-3 series hole, the Celtics spit the bit. Miami blew them out 103-84, and made their own history — as only the second No. 8 seed to ever reach the NBA Finals.
Whatever momentum the Celtics should’ve carried over from their stunning Game 6 victory they squandered through their shoddy play. They didn’t move the ball, didn’t run off the ball, and their season-low in scoring led to a season-ending loss.
Boston had the home-court advantage. Better health. More talent.
But talent isn’t enough.
Teamwork, temperament and toughness trumped it on Monday night in TD Garden. Witness Jimmy Butler and Caleb Martin.
Playoff Jimmy is Miami’s leading scorer and spiritual leader. A year earlier to the day, the Heat had lost a heartbreaking Game 7 in the same building. But on Monday, the Heat showed how much they learned and flipped the script.
“They made us get better. Last year was extremely painful. We thought about it all season long,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “And if you don’t have an opponent like that to bring it to a different level, sometimes you don’t get there.”
They say familiarity breeds contempt. But in this budding rivalry it has bred classics. In 14 games over the last two playoffs, the road team has won 10 — including the Heat taking Games 1, 2 and now 7 in Boston.
“I learned that I have to be better, and I will be better,” Butler had vowed after last year’s Game 7 loss. “We had enough. Next year, we will have enough and we’re going to be right back in the same situation, and we’re going to get it done.”
They did exactly that. Just like Butler had promised a year earlier, and just like he’d guaranteed after their stunning fraction-of-a-second Game 6 loss in Miami, saying “we’re going to go in there and get it done.”
Butler had a game-high 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals in the ultimate gut-check, winning the Eastern Conference MVP Trophy renamed, ironically, for Boston icon Larry Bird. And he tormented Bird’s former team.
Martin, part of the Heat’s cadre of undrafted finds, could just as easily have been the series MVP. He had 26 points, a team-high 10 rebounds and hit 4-for-6 from behind the arc, Miami’s most consistent player throughout.
After not playing a single second in last year’s Game 7, he was invaluable. He got matched up on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and was stout defensively. Yes, Tatum was less than 100 percent, turning his left ankle on the game’s first possession; but Miami has played without both Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. It is what it is.
The Celtics are clearly the more gifted roster, but Joe Mazzulla was outcoached several times during the playoffs and the Eastern Conference Finals was a mismatch. Boston missed its first 12 3-pointers, but Mazzulla never found a way to get them cleaner looks. They just repeated the same contested lazy attempts, expecting different results.
Asked what had gone wrong, Mazzulla said “We shot 21 percent from 3; the defense was still there.” Asked if the Celtics had become too reliant on the 3-point shot, and does that have to change, he tersely replied “No.”
It remains to be seen if this Celtics roster looks different next year. Their attitude, teamwork and temperament — coming from the top down — should.