The Celtics, from history to hysteria: Butler puts the Heat in the NBA Finals

151-0. It is the historical balance that exists when a team goes 3-0 in a playoff series. And it doesn’t break: The Celtics fell by the wayside, did the nearly impossible, and ultimately rowed to die on the shore. It could not be. They arrived exhausted at the end, when it was time to finish off. It was a total and absolute review of the Heat who return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2020 and for the sixth time in their history: before they did it in 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Their rivals have not had the same lucky: they lost last year in the last round just like they did in 2010. In 2008 they conquered their last ring, the only one since 1986. A too long wait that does not end, a gargantuan crisis that is becoming eternal and that does not do justice to the trajectory of the green entity, one of the founders of the NBA, with an extraordinary history that reaches 17 rings, the maximum historic, a leadership that they continue to share with the Lakers. At the moment, they are not going to move from there. Nuggets and Heat will face each other in the Finals: if someone bet money on them at the beginning of the season, or even before the playoffs, they have made money. Sure.

The Heat become the first NBA team since the Knicks in 1999 to reach the Finals, starting as the eighth seed in their Conference. In normal season they had a negative +/- and were last in the NBA in points per game. In it play in they lost in the first game against the Hawks and trailed in the second with 3 minutes remaining. In the playoffs, they have finished with the first classified in the East (the Bucks with 58 victories), the fifth (Knicks) and the second (57-25 record). They have destroyed the two best balance sheets of the season after starting overwhelming (3-0), being unable to sentence (3-3) and suffering the tremendous stick of seeing how a miracle from Derrick White lengthened the series. Suddenly, the Celtics were favorites again. It did not matter: in the final assault, they won all the quarters except the third (25-24), they were already 15-22 at the end of the first period and 52-41 at halftime. They came to win by 23, scored 19 points off the bench and destroyed the greens. A unique personality exercise. A demonstration of enviable mental strength. Extraordinary.

Caleb Martin was the revulsion of an enviable group. Jimmy Butler, again, the enforcer. The first one went to 26 points and 10 rebounds with 11 of 16 shooting from the field and 4 of 6 in triples. It is his fourth game of 20 or more points in these playoffs… for the 4 he achieved in the regular phase. Another exercise in honor and mastery of the Heat, structurally sound, with Pat Riley and his eternal figure pulling the strings and Erik Spoelstra consolidating himself as one of the best coaches in history. The coach introduced 8 players to the main rotation, 5 of them undrafted. Bam Adebayo 12+10+7, he will have to improve to face Nikola Jokicc) was the highest chosen, in 14th place, the only one that enters the lottery. Speechless. And then there is Butler, MVP of the Eastern Conference finals (an award dedicated to Larry Bird): he achieved a 28+7+6, went from less to more and is already one of the winners of the season, a man who transforms in the final phase and shows a competitiveness that only the greatest have managed to exercise. He reaches his second Finals on his way to turning 34 and is facing his great opportunity. A year ago he warned, after being eliminated by the Florida Celtics in the seventh game of this round, that the following year they would return and not fail. promise kept.

The Heat pose as Eastern Conference champions.
The Heat pose as Eastern Conference champions.Adam GlanzmanAFP

The game was marked by an ankle injury to Jayson Tatum on (literally) the first play. The star stepped badly and even so he played almost 42 minutes, a management that could not be entirely good on the part of a Joe Mazzulla who arrived after Ime Udoka’s farce and has not been able to hit the key. Despite this, the Garden pressed and the Celtics reached the last quarter alive: 66-76. It was a mirage: a triple by Caleb Martin and 4 consecutive points by Butler brought the match to 66-83, an advantage that the Heat already handled comfortably, with a lot of dribbling from Kyle Lowry, who went to 7+7+ 5 in 24 minutes and contributed stripes, seniority and experience. There the Celtics were already without heart or conviction, the public began to leave the stadium and reality took over. Anyone who entered the Heat court, starting or on the bench, was part of a whole, knew what was coming and where it would stay. Destiny was in the Finals and that’s where it landed. There was not even a special euphoria in the celebration. It certainly did not look like they had lost three straight games.. Exciting and extraordinary series ended with only two home victories, one for each team. In the end, the Heat prevailed. And in a (very) deserved way.

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In the Celtics, it’s time to rethink the project. Since Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo (present in the Garden), Kevin Garnett, Doc Rivers and company set out for new destinations, a new era began that has consistently had the same defects, enhanced in these playoffs. They have played, since 2015 they have played the final phase without interruption, they have reached the Conference finals in 2017, 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023 and in the penultimate of those years they surpassed the series to play the Finals. But they have always had problems in the point guard position (Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier, Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker have come and gone) that Marcus Smart does not solve, whose good defense does not make up for his always questionable decision-making in this part of the season on offense (9 points on 4-for-10 shooting today) and they have a huge problem closing out series when they do. The example is against the Hawks, when they extended to six games that should never have happened. It already happened to them in the 2022 playoffs, when they arrived exhausted against the Warriors after playing 7 games in the second round and others in the last one, precisely against the Heat and with a 3-2 that they failed to close in the Garden, Butler through. Tatum (14+11+4) and Brown (19, due to 8 losses) miss the moment of truth and the mentality ends up being superior in their rivals. The base will be maintained, but many things must be thought about. We will see.

For the Heat, nothing to lose and everything to gain. They reach the Finals, they will play it against Nuggets who are better… but just like they were, in theory, all the rivals they have had so far. They are a physically strong team that reaches everything and does not give up during matches. Excellently well coached by one of the greats and with a heavenly Butler accompanied by a fantastic quartermaster. And the one that cannot be compared with that of normal season, when they were not only the 30th team in points; also 27 in rebounds, 25 in assists, 25 in offensive rating and 21 in net rating. With all that, they reach the Finals. With a 67-0, 68 already, when they command 10 or more points in the last quarter. Fighting against statistics, data, narratives and favourites. Showing enormous recovery capacity, streaks in which they seem truly unbeatable. And all with an infinity of undrafted players, always necessary luxury veterans (Lowry, Kevin Love or a Udonis Haslem who reaches his sixth Finals after playing 7 games in the regular season and one in the playoffs), a great quartermaster and a Butler, Of course, for the annals. Awesome.

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