Celtics’ season ends with painful loss to Heat
Fall short of return to NBA Finals
The Celtics knew that their miraculous Game 6 victory wouldn't have mattered if they didn't follow it up with a memorable performance. Their resilience to respond with three consecutive victories to force an unthinkable Game 7 wouldn't have mattered if they didn't finish the job.
The Celtics weren't celebrating Saturday night in Miami. Jaylen Brown said that win meant nothing if they laid an egg Monday night on their home floor.
Then, that's exactly what happened.
One of the rowdiest home crowds in TD Garden history came to celebrate the possibility of witnessing history, hoping to see the Celtics become the first NBA team to overcome an 0-3 series deficit and advance to the NBA Finals.
Instead, they were history. Instead, boos followed these Celtics into a long, agonizing summer after a painful 103-84 loss to the Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, one of the most disappointing defeats in Boston sports history.
"We failed," Brown said. "We let the whole city down."
They learned there's a reason why no team has ever done the impossible. These Celtics came this far just to come this far.
The first three games of this series exposed the Celtics' greatest weaknesses. They lived and died too much by 3-pointers. Their defense was too inconsistent. Too many turnovers. Too many lapses. They covered them up with resounding, incredible performances in
Games 4-6. But Game 7 exposed them for who they really are.
Monday night didn't start well, and the Celtics never recovered. Jayson Tatum hurt his ankle on the first play of the game. The C's missed their first 12 3-point attempts of the night. The Celtics trailed by 17 in the second quarter as they continued to be torched by Caleb Martin. Jaylen Brown kept committing bad turnovers, and finished with eight of them.
The Heat stayed in control all night despite the Celtics' best effort in the third quarter fueled by Derrick White.
Just like he did with a big Game 5 performance, and then again with his winning tip-in in Game 6, White did his best to save the Celtics Monday.
The Celtics trailed by 16 early in third after their horrific first half but White didn't let them go away quietly. With Tatum hobbled, they needed White. He delivered just like the other games. He scored eight consecutive points — two free throws, a 3-pointer and then a three-point play — to cut their deficit to eight as the C's regained life.
The Heat responded, rebuilding their lead to 13 with a 3-pointer from Max Strus midway through the third. But then the Celtics picked up their defensive intensity. They proceeded to hold the visitors scoreless for nearly four minutes, but they couldn't quite get over the hump. They couldn't get the deficit closer than seven after White made one of two free throws, or when Grant Williams made a 3-pointer.
Martin kept on answering. Inside the final minute of the third, he made two tough jumpers to keep the Celtics behind by 10.
It unraveled for the
Celtics to start the fourth. Martin drilled another 3-pointer, then Brown committed his sixth and seventh turnovers that led to back-to-back buckets for Butler.
The Celtics were hopeless again with the deficit back to 17. There was not another comeback to be made. They couldn't finish the ultimate comeback.
"When we were down 3-0, the thing was how do we want to be defined?" Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. "I thought they showed a lot of character by even getting to this point."
Other takeaways from the loss:
— The Celtics certainly didn't quit after falling behind by 17 in the second quarter, but any time they looked primed to make a momentum-shifting run, the Heat had a deflating answer.
Tatum made a tough floater to bring the Celtics
within 11 with 5:01 to go in the first half, and a crowd that got quiet pretty quickly started getting loud. But then Gabe Vincent buried a 3-pointer. Derrick White responded with his own triple, but then Robert Williams was whistled for a foul on Bam Adebayo. The C's couldn't string together enough stops consecutively.
After a Marcus Smart 3-pointer, Tatum's drive with 1:49 left in the first half once again gave them and the Garden life. But then Butler drilled a corner 3-pointer, and then White committed a turnover that led to a Butler floater. Suddenly, the Heat restored their lead to 13.
— The Celtics came out with great energy behind one of the most raucous Garden crowds in recent history, and started strong behind six early points from Jaylen Brown as they built a 9-4 lead. But it was short-lived.
The Celtics' offense looked as clueless as it's been all season. Brown committed three turnovers in short order. And the C's — following their worst 3-point shooting performance of the season in Game 6, when they went 7-for-35 — continued their shooting woes into Game 7 and took it to even worse levels. The Celtics missed their first 12 attempts from deep that featured some ugly shots — including an air-ball from Malcolm Brogdon.
The C's were playing good defense to start the game, but it didn't matter because they were stringing together too many empty offensive possessions. Al Horford made the Celtics' first triple of the night with 9:53 to go in the second quarter after the Heat already built a double-digit lead.
— On the Celtics' first possession of the game, they couldn't get a look until the shot clock was expiring, when Tatum made a drive down the baseline and was fouled by Vincent. But Tatum landed awkwardly and rolled his left ankle pretty badly. He stayed in the game but it was clearly bothering him as he continued to wince. He scored just one point in the first quarter and never looked the same as he finished with just 14 points.
"He just tried to play through it, as best as he could," Mazzulla said.