The Celtics will have to wait another year to make their 22nd appearance in the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat knocked off the Celtics 125-113 Sunday, finishing the Eastern Conference Finals in six games to set up a date with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
After trailing for much of the first three quarters, the Celtics went on a 17-4 run to go up 96-90 with 9:15 remaining.
Their momentum to force Game 7 stopped there. The Heat went on a 26-6 run over the near seven minutes that followed, which includes nearly four minutes of play where the Celtics didn’t score.
“They made great plays, credit Miami for that,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters of the Heat’s run. “I think they’re terrific and I think we didn’t play as well in those spots. I think they just deserve a lot of credit. Super team, super coach. They’re really good. They’re going to be a handful.”
“I don’t think we were pressing (offensively),” Kemba Walker added of the Heat’s run to finish the Celtics. “I thought we got some really good looks. They just didn’t drop. Whenever we did miss, those guys brought it down with great pace and made the plays necessary to win. That was the difference, they made the plays and we didn’t.”
Boston was on a tough hill to climb after losing Game 4 of the series, which Miami won to take a 3-1 lead. The Celtics certainly had their chances to win either of the first two games, holding double-digit leads in the second halves of both. But late Miami comebacks gave the Heat a 2-0 series lead after two games.
When asked if he had regrets about how he and his team handled the series, Stevens said he didn’t have any.
“My regrets would be the outcomes,” Stevens said. “My regret is not what we put in. My regret is not how we prepared or worked. Or how hard our guys worked or how hard committed they were to playing and staying together. You look back at those first couple of games and it put us in a tough spot. I just think that ultimately, we had our chances but the other team is out there too.”
This year’s Eastern Conference Finals trip was Walker’s first time making it this far in the playoffs. Prior to signing with Boston last offseason, Walker hadn’t even won a playoff series in his first eight years in the league.
He’s prideful of what the team accomplished this season.
“It was a fun run,” Walker said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we fought hard man. That’s all you can ask for. You want guys to compete at a really high level. I’m just really proud of these guys. It’s been a really fun year to be around these guys.”
Jayson Tatum, who became an All-Star in his third year in the league, stepped up as the team’s leading scorer this season, averaging 23.4 points per game in the regular season and 25.8 points per game in the playoffs prior to Sunday. He scored 24 points and dished out 11 assists in Game 6.
Tatum found out the hard lesson it is to be the No. 1 guy on a title-contending team, but he’s still accepting of the challenge.
“It’s not easy, it’s tough,” Tatum said. “But if you want those expectations, you’ve got to be that guy who’s capable of doing those things, then you’ve got to through some tough things. Some ups and downs. Some stuff I can learn from. I think I can learn a lot moving forward, from this season and this series.”
The big issue for the Celtics in the playoffs was holding second-half leads and playing in close games. Over the final two rounds of the playoffs, the Celtics went just 2-6 games decided by single digits or less.
Walker stated his belief in the current Celtics’ group moving forward and that they can resolve those issues.
“You just got to grow,” Walker said. “We’re going have to figure out how to win those games, down the stretch. We’ve got time. We’re going to be out of here and at some point we’ll look back at this and learn. It’s all learning experiences. We all just got to have big offseason’s, wait to come back and start back up.
“We’ll get better,” Walker added. “We had a lot of times where a lot of us didn’t play together, whether it be injuries or things of that nature. This is our first year together, we’ll have some time to grow. This is going to be a fun group.”
Tatum co-signed Walker’s sentiments.
“I believe in this group,” Tatum said. “I think we’re capable. I think we have more than enough to get the job done. We just let a couple slip away.
“I really love playing on this team. It was a lot of fun. A lot of guys got so much better this year and throughout the season. So much better from last season. Just to see guys grow and get better was fun. It was fun this year.”
Jaylen Brown apologized for not saying much after the loss, saying “It’s still kind of raw.” Something he did open up about was using the time in the NBA’s bubble to shine a light on social injustices.
Brown was noticeably active on the social justice movement during the league’s stoppage. He drove from Boston to his hometown of Atlanta to take part in a protest following the death of George Floyd.
He was grateful for the opportunity he had to continue to spread his message over the last couple of months.
“It was an honor to be able to play here and shed light on those injustices,” Brown said. “I don’t know all the answers, I just want to do my part. I appreciate everybody who’s out there listening, who heard me, and who agrees and wants to make change.”
Stevens’s final message to his team was also showed how grateful he for this season.
“I really appreciated the way they played basketball all year,” Stevens told reporters on the message he told his team following the Game 6 loss. “I really appreciated the way they competed. I really appreciated the way they blocked out stuff that didn’t matter. I really appreciated they inspired when they were here, and before. I really appreciated the way they empowered all the NBA employees who weren’t here, including Celtics employees and everybody else that benefitted from them putting everything into this.
“I appreciated the way they played and found joy and stayed together. We had one minor dust-up, and that’s pretty good for a calendar year with a group. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.”
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