Jayson Tatum finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds as the Boston Celtics booked their spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals with a 92-87 game seven win over the defending league champion Toronto Raptors on Friday.
Jaylen Brown scored 21 points, Marcus Smart added 16 points and Kemba Walker 14 for the Celtics who won the series 4-3 and advanced to their third Eastern Conference finals in the past four seasons.
“If you want to achieve something great, if you want to win, it’s not going to be easy,” Tatum said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Boston will play the Miami Heat with game one of the best-of-seven series scheduled for Tuesday in the quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
Fred VanVleet had 20 points to lead the Raptors, whose title defence came to a close after battling back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the series.
“We didn’t play great in this series. There is no denying that. But pretty much everything else we did this season, we were awesome,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said.
Kyle Lowry had 16 points before fouling out in the final minute. Pascal Siakam scored 13 points with 11 rebounds as the Raptors turned the ball over 18 times, including a half dozen times in the fourth quarter.
Celtics Smart made a clutch block on Siakam late in the fourth with Boston up by just two, 89-87. Lowry fouled out on the other end with 35 seconds to go.
Celtics rookie Grant Williams missed two free throw chances, but Tatum got fouled on the rebound and made one free throw for a 90-87 lead.
VanVleet missed a potential game-tying three with 12 seconds left by putting up an air ball. Walker made two free throws at the other end to seal the victory.
In the Western Conference, Jamal Murray sparked a fourth-quarter rally and rookie Michael Porter made several clutch plays down the stretch as the Denver Nuggets stayed alive with a 111-105 upset of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Nuggets turned up the heat on the Clippers in the fourth quarter to cut Los Angeles’ lead in the semi-final series to 3-2.
Canada’s Murray scored a team high 26 points, Nikola Jokic had 22 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and Paul Millsap tallied 17 points for the Nuggets, who were also down 3-1 in the previous series before storming back to win three straight against the Utah Jazz.
Murray was able to bust loose in game five after being contained for much of the series by a rotating trio of Clippers defenders, including Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley.
“We play the best when our backs are against the wall,” said Murray. “It is as simple as that. We came up fighting. They had a good start but we had to fight back.”
American Porter made a series of key plays late in the game including a three-point dagger from 27 feet out with 71 seconds remaining to give the Nuggets a five point lead, 105-100.
Porter, 22, also had a clutch block on Ivica Zubac 35 seconds later and drained four free throws in the final 21 seconds.
Leonard scored a game-high 36 points and George finished with 26 for the second seeded Clippers, who are trying to advance to their first Western Conference final.
Leonard has scored at least 30 points in seven playoff games. He is averaging almost 30 points per game in the postseason but he didn’t get much help from the Clippers bench in game five.
Murray rebounded nicely on Friday, making five of seven baskets from beyond the arc after shooting six-of-15 from the field in game four.