By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics are moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston beat the Toronto Raptors in Friday night’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semis, 92-87, and will now take on the Miami Heat for a trip to the NBA Finals.
For the Celtics, it’s their third trip to the Conference Finals in the last four years.
Game 7 lived up to the rest of the series, with 11 lead changes and several huge plays down the stretch. Boston didn’t make a shot from the floor in the final five minutes, but is moving on because of stellar defense and some timely rebounding.
Jayson Tatum led the way for Boston with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, and came up with a gigantic offensive rebound with 34.9 seconds left to help seal the game, further cementing himself as a star of the league.
“He’s a superstar,” Kemba Walker said of Tatum after the game.
Jaylen Brown added 21 points and eight rebounds, while Marcus Smart had 16 points, six assists and one gigantic block in the final minute.
“I tip my hat to Toronto. They’re the defending champs and they have a lot of heart,” Tatum said after the victory. “They made us earn that. When you’re trying to achieve something as special as a championship, you’re going to have to go through things; Heartbreak, tough moments, adversity. You see how you respond, and I think we responded after almost being up 3-0, then tied 2-2. It was big and I think it’s going to help us moving forward.”
The Celtics jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter, but the Raptors answered with a 20-7 run over the final five minutes of the frame. Fred VanVleet scored eight of his 20 points in the first.
Toronto went up by seven points in the second quarter, but Boston exploded for a 17-6 run to close the half. Smart got it started with a steal and a nice alley-oop to Tatum, then had a nice driving layup after he drew a charge on Serge Ibaka. A few possessions later, Smart beat out a pair of Raptors to a loose ball and took it in for a layup to give Boston a 41-40 lead. The C’s added to that advantage as Brown scored seven of their next nine points, and Boston went into the locker room with a 50-46 lead.
Boston once again lost the third quarter, as they did through the entire series, with the Raptors outscoring them 25-22. But the Celtics scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, capped off by a Tatum layup off a Pascal Siakam turnover to take a 79-71 lead.
Brown came through with a nice jam early in the quarter to give the Celtics an 81-73 lead, but appeared to hurt his groin on the play after slipping on the court. He was OK after staying down for a moment, and didn’t seem too bothered the rest of the way.
Kemba Walker was quiet again for most of the night against Toronto’s Box-and-1 defense, but converted on a big three-point play to put Boston ahead 85-78 with six minutes left. Walker finished his night with 16 points off 5-for-16 shooting.
Tatum followed with a steal off a bad Siakam pass under the Toronto basket, and finished with a nice layup on the other end to give Boston a nine-point lead. The Celtics scored 31 points off 18 Raptors turnovers.
But Toronto ripped off a 7-1 run late in the fourth, with Lowry making a nice left-handed layup to make it an 88-85 game with under two minutes to go. Lowry then turned a Tatum miss into a trip to the free throw line, with his two freebies making it an 89-87 game with 1:19 left.
The Raptors had a chance to tie it after Siakam pulled down another Tatum miss, but Smart charged down the floor and blocked Norman Powell’s layup attempt on the other end.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 12, 2020
“I’m First Team All-Defense for a reason,” Smart said after the win.
Walker then made a nice feed to rookie Grant Williams underneath the Boston basket, and Williams was fouled by Lowry with 35.4 seconds left. Lowry fouled out on the play, finishing his night with 16 points.
Williams missed both of his freebies, but Tatum pulled down the miss and was fouled by Powell. He hit one of his two free throws to give Boston a 90-87 lead.
Williams made up for his missed free throws with some solid defense on Van Vleet on Toronto’s ensuing possession, forcing the sharp shooter to miss a three. Brown snagged the rebound, and Walker calmly hit both of his free throws after being fouled to ice the game with 7.9 seconds left.
“The two plays of the night were Smart’s block and Tatum’s rebound,” head coach Brad Stevens said after the win. “Incredible effort plays by two of our best players.”
“That’s what it’s about. It’s about will, determination, resiliency,” said Brown. “A lot of that stuff you can’t find on the stat sheet.”
The Celtics and the Raptors went the distance in a classic second-round matchup. Boston took the first two games of the series and was just 0.5 seconds from taking a commanding 3-0 series lead, but OG Anunoby hit a miraculous buzzer-beater from downtown in Game 3 to give Toronto some life. The Raptors took Game 4 to even the series before Boston won Game 5 by 22 points. The two teams engaged in a classic double overtime affair in Game 6, which the Raptors won to force a winner-takes-all Game 7.
Boston now moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals, while the defending champion Raptors head home from the NBA bubble.
The Celtics took two of their three regular season matchups with the Heat, winning one in Boston in December, 112-93, and one in Miami in January, 109-101. They met in the seeding games when the season restarted in Orlando, with Miami taking that matchup 112-106. It was one of only two losses by the Celtics in their eight seeding games.
Miami advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after beating the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the semifinals. The Heat swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round, and are 8-1 in the playoffs.
Celtics-Heat Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday night.