LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – It was exactly a year ago on Sunday when Jimmy Butler walked into the Miami Heat’s training gym, sat down on a makeshift stage and said he wanted to be part of the next team title race.
He will have this chance.
The Heat will go to the NBA Finals, surprising many, perhaps, but not themselves. Bam Adebayo set a season record of 32 points and 14 rebounds, Butler scored 22 points and the Heat won the Eastern Conference Finals for the sixth time by beating the Boston Celtics 125-113 on Sunday night.
“It means everything,” Butler said in the post-game trophy presentation. “This is why we are here and we all play, it is to win. We have talked about it all year and have remained confident through the injuries, the ups and downs ̵
The Heat won the series 4-2 and will now face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for the title. The first game of that series is Wednesday night.
Tyler Herro scored 19 points, Duncan Robinson and Andre Iguodala each had 15 and Goran Dragic had 13 for the Heat.
“This group, more than anything else, just loves competing,” Heat manager Erik Spoelstra said during the trophy celebration.
Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Jayson Tatum had 24 and a record 11 assists, and Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker each scored 20 points for Boston, who fell in the East Finals for a third time in the past four seasons.
Miami was down by six early in the quarter before regaining control. A 6-0 burst – Herro had the last five of those points, taking only 31 seconds to make it – tied at 96. Boston took the lead two more times, with Adebayo responding both times – first with a dunk, then green light, three-point game with 6:16 left.
He hit the floor as a sign of celebration.
It is as if they knew what was coming. They never dragged on again. Herro had a couple of baskets in a 9-0 burst that boosted the Heat by 10, Adebayo found Butler for a layup and a lead of 116-102 everyone on the bench was standing.
The Heat is the only NBA franchise with six final appearances in the past 15 years. They are looking for their fourth title and this possibility was not easy.
The Heat had a 5-for-5 3-point stretch in the first quarter, but otherwise fought over the arc again in the first half. They were 6 of 14 from depth in the first 24 minutes, Boston was 11 of 23 before half-time and the Heat took a 62-60 lead at half-time.
And the margin remained two in the fourth.
Iguodala’s fourth triple – in as many attempts – with 4:20 remaining in the third brought the Heat up eight, before Brown had five points in a 10-2 spurt in Boston to equalize. Dragic got the green light on Miami’s last shot of the fourth and it was 88-86 Heat with 12 minutes left.
The Celtics scored 10 of the first 12 points of the quarter, surviving a scare there as well, when Brown suffered a bad fall after scoring in transition. Brown thought Butler had knocked him out in the legs, but no foul was called and – after the Celtics medical staff checked his left knee – Brown remained in the game.
Tatum took 15 shots in the first half, the first time in his 270-game career he has done so. He had taken 14 on four other occasions. Tatum’s four best assist-total games of his career came in the bubble.
The Heat are now guaranteed no less than $ 4,399,686 for their playoff share, and that number would rise to $ 5,791,041 if they win the title.
Udonis Haslem is the only player to be part of all six Heat teams that have reached the finals.