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Heat crush Celtics, face Denver in Finals

ADAM GLANZMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE THE Miami Heat celebrate after beating the Boston Celtics, 103-84, to win the Eastern Conference title and advance to the NBA Finals.

Jimmy Butler played a starring role as the Miami Heat advanced to the National Basketball Association Finals by routing Boston, 103-84, denying the Celtics a historic comeback after trailing the playoff series, 3-0.

Butler had 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists while Caleb Martin added 26 points and 10 rebounds to spark Miami, which will visit Denver on Thursday to begin the best-of-seven championship final.

Miami recovered from a gut-punch of a Game 6 defeat, where they fell on a last-second tip-in, to win the Eastern Conference final 4-3, silencing a loud Boston crowd.

Taking full advantage of an injury to Boston star Jayson Tatum in the opening seconds and a cold-shooting Celtics start, the Heat avoided becoming the first team in 151 attempts to lose a playoff series after leading, 3-0.

“We stayed together as a group,” Butler said.

MADDIE MEYER/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE JIMMY Butler delivers 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lift the Miami Heat to a 103-84 win in Game 7 and emerge as Most Valuable Player of the Eastern Conference final series.

“We talked about going to get a tough one on the road and we did just that.”

“But we’re not satisfied. We’re happy. We’re ecstatic. But we’ve got one more to get.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he never doubted his resilient squad could win Game 7.

“Sometimes, you have to suffer for the things you really want,” he said.

“This group has shown fortitude when there are inevitable let-downs and failures, but had that perseverance to pick yourself up, that collective spirit to keep on forging ahead.”

The Heat, seeking a fourth NBA title and first since 2013, last reached the NBA Finals in 2020, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nuggets, into the NBA Finals for the first time, swept the Lakers in the Western Conference final.

It was a determined effort by a Miami squad that lost to Boston in seven games in last year’s East finals. Miami also lacked any momentum after squandering their 3-0 edge to set up a winner-takes-all road game.

“When the ship gets rocky, just stay together and keep believing in one another,” said Miami’s Bam Adebayo, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Spoelstra said last year’s loss had weighed on the team.

“They made us get better. We thought about it all season long,” he said.

Butler said his teammates enabled him to sink key shots and shut down Boston comeback bids.

“They give me so much confidence to hoop at a high level,” he said.

“They’re the reason we’re here. I know how good a team we are and we made it happen.”

Tatum, who finished with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting, turned his left ankle landing awkwardly after a baseline jumper in the opening seconds. He grimaced often and took only one shot in the first 17 minutes.

“It swelled up,” Tatum said.

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