3 observations: Butler’s late 3 misses, Celtics advance to finals

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The Boston Celtics (3-3) visited the Miami Heat (3-3) in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. The winner earned a date with the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA finals. The Celtics snatched a 100-96 victory from the jaws of defeat as Jimmy Butler’s questionable three-point attempt with less than 12 seconds remaining was just a bit off the mark.

Jayson Tatum scored 26 points on 9-for-21 shooting. He also pulled down 10 rebounds and dished 6 assists.

Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart combined for 48 points on 16-for-37 shooting, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Butler played the entire game, scoring 35 points on 13-for-24 shooting. Bam Adebayo contributed 25 points on 12-for-21 shooting and ripped down 11 rebounds.

Here are 3 observations from the Celtics’ victory.

The Boston (and, really, everyone else, too) Strangler

Just as he’s been virtually all playoffs, Jimmy Butler was unstoppable through the first 24 minutes of the game. He scored 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting and connected on 7 of his 10 free throw attempts.

He used his savviness at the rim, throwing shot fakes and toggling through different footworks to get Boston in the air and draw contact. Butler was alert in passing lanes, selling out to pick off telegraphed passes and sprinting to dunks in transition. He cashed an assortment of midrange jumpers before capping off his dominant first half with a pull-up triple to ignite the home crowd as Miami made its push back into the game with less than 2 minutes before intermission.

Miami made 16 shots in the first half. Butler made 8 of them. The rest of the Heat shot 8-for-27 ahead of intermission.

On the run

The Celtics re-asserted its control over the game in the third quarter by capitalizing on transition offense. Boston’s interior did a much better job of staying disciplined when Butler was in the paint, staying vertical and offering no contact as he went up for difficult finishes.

That bothered Butler, who missed a handful of shots around the basket in the third quarter. With those shots spinning off ever so slightly, Boston was off to the races. The Celtics leveraged their athleticism to capitalize on straight-line drives around the Floridians in their ways to slice to the rim for quality shots.

The Celtics were +6 in fast break points through 3 quarters, holding a 19-13 advantage.

Miami beat itself down the stretch

The better team won, and they deserved to win. But, the Celtics gave the Heat every chance to come back and steal the victory late.

Boston didn’t make a field goal over the final 4:28 of regulation, missing 5 shots and committing 2 turnovers in that stretch. In the end, they let the Heat get to within 2 points of tying the game with the ball in transition with 20 seconds remaining.

But, Miami missed 6 shots — a number of which weren’t great quality — while Boston was reeling. And that 6th and final miss came with the game hanging in the balance and a trip to the finals there for the taking.

Butler pulled up for a triple in transition that would’ve given Miami the lead with 10 seconds left. A poor three-point shooter who has enjoyed success on a small sample size of such attempts this postseason, Butler’s three was just a bit off the mark.

Given Butler’s inefficiency as a three-point shooter, it was certainly a questionable look, even if no one on Miami’s side wants to say it. It becomes even more questionable when you consider that Butler could’ve leveraged a hesitation move to turn the corner on Al Horford or taken it straight to the rim for a finish. Even if the mentality was to go for the win, Butler’s knack for drawing a favorable whistle would’ve potentially put the Heat in a position to win at the charity stripe.

It wasn’t the worst decision he could’ve made, and there are a bunch of “what-if” scenarios with which you can mentally wrestle. But it was a questionable decision at the very least, and it’s one with which Butler will have to sleep until his next opportunity to make a deep playoff run.

Regardless, the Celtics won, but they came within inches of giving it away.

The Celtics will head to San Francisco to take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals. Game 1 tips at 9 PM, Eastern time, on June 2. You can catch the action on ABC.

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