The Boston Celtics are one step closer to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 109-81 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was a shockingly commanding victory over a Bucks team that won it all last July. In this article, I will break down the keys to Boston’s success as well as Milwaukee’s shortcomings. I will also preview the Celtics’ upcoming matchup against the Miami Heat and provide my prediction as to who will represent the East in this year’s Finals.
Celtics’ shooting success
Boston lit up TD Garden on Sunday, hitting 22 3-pointers, the most in a Game 7 and tied for fourth-most in NBA playoff history. It all started with Grant Williams, who made seven of his 18 attempts from deep—the third-year forward hadn’t attempted more than eight threes before today. The Bucks left him open to start the afternoon, and even as they paid him more attention in the second half, his catch-and-shoot game proved to be too much for Milwaukee to handle. Williams’ seven threes is a Game 7 record for the Celtics.
Jayson Tatum started off hot as well, scoring 17 points on 4-for-4 from deep in the first half. He didn’t find the same success in the second half after running into foul trouble, but Boston didn’t need a nuclear performance from their franchise cornerstone. Jaylen Brown had a relatively quiet but efficient 19 points and eight rebounds on 8-for-16 shooting from the field.
Despite shooting just 4-for-16 combined, starters Al Horford and Marcus Smart were vital to Boston’s winning formula in their own right. Horford drew a tough assignment in guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he rose to the challenge. He limited the two-time MVP to tough midrange jumpers on several occasions and slowed him down on opportunities to drive to the rim.
Smart impacted the game in every facet other than scoring, recording seven rebounds and 10 assists to finish with a plus-minus of +18, good for second behind Williams. His playmaking was essential to Boston’s hot shooting—he was relentless in his drives and subsequent kickouts to open shooters in the corner. Like any other game, Smart gave it his all on the court and it was evident in the box score.
Milwaukee goes cold at the wrong time
The Bucks simply couldn’t buy a bucket beyond the arc, hitting just four of their 33 3-point attempts. Their typically reliable brigade of role players (Pat Connaughton, Grayson Allen, Wesley Matthews) attempted 14 shots from deep and couldn’t convert a single one. Jrue Holiday went 0-for-6 from deep, Brook Lopez went 1-for-6, and Giannis Antetokounmpo went 1-for-4. It was a complete meltdown from the defending champs, who will look back at this game as one of the worst playoff performances in team history.
Interestingly, Milwaukee appeared to control the game early on. They absolutely stuffed Boston at the rim and crashed the boards with intensity. Bobby Portis Jr. played excellent paint defense and Brook Lopez recorded three blocks in the first half. Without Horford on the floor, Lopez feasted on the smaller Daniel Theis and grabbed countless offensive rebounds.
Things never changed in terms of rebounding, as Milwaukee won that battle 56-48. But their cold shooting was an insurmountable roadblock. Boston jumped out to a 59-47 lead to start the second half after hitting three shots from deep, two coming off assists from Tatum. The Celtics kept their foot off the gas pedal after that, never letting their lead sink below 10 points.
Looking ahead to Miami
The Celtics now face a completely different—and possibly even more daunting—team in the Miami Heat. Led by Jimmy Butler, the Heat took their second-round matchup in seven games against the 76ers. Butler averaged 27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists on 51.5 percent shooting in the hard-fought series. But don’t be mistaken: the Miami Heat are not a one-man band. In fact, they’re the definition of team-oriented, hard-nosed basketball.
Among their eight players playing consistent minutes this postseason, just three are former lottery picks. Miami values their ability to give opportunities to unheralded players and produce homegrown talent—Butler is the engine that powers this well-rounded unit.
The Heat reached the NBA Finals in 2020 with a similar core. Butler spearheaded the offensive attack, accompanied by big man Bam Adebayo and sixth man Tyler Herro. Only this time, they have another floor general to set the table in Kyle Lowry. He’s struggled with a hamstring injury and will likely be out for Game 1, but he could make an impact for the Heat deeper in the series.
It’s going to be a slugfest between Miami and Boston, who in this postseason sport the second and third lowest defensive rating, respectively. With that being said, I like the Celtics advancing to the 2022 NBA Finals. They’re peaking at the right time, coming off an outstanding shooting performance as a team. Boston has proved that they have the supporting cast to accompany Tatum and Brown on their quest to their first title since 2008. One thing’s for sure, though—it won’t be easy getting there.