The Miami Heat poured it on in the fourth quarter to beat the Boston Celtics 125-113 on Sunday and book a NBA Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Heat, NBA champions in 2006, 2012 and 2013, reached the championship series for the sixth time in club history with a four games to two victory over the Celtics in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
When the finals start on Wednesday, they’ll be up against a Lakers team led by LeBron James – who reached the title series four times with Miami and won two titles before departing as a free agent in 2014.
Bam Adebayo scored 32 points and pulled down 14 rebounds for the Heat, who trailed by six with 9:18 remaining.
Midway through the fourth quarter Adebayo was fouled on a layup and made the free throw put the Heat up 101-100 and they wouldn’t trail again.
It was a vindication for the player who blamed himself for the team’s failure to clinch the series at their first opportunity in game five.
“I couldn’t let my teammates down like I did in the game before,” Adebayo said. “I just went out there and tried to execute and make plays and I did that tonight.”
Jimmy Butler added 22 points and eight assists and rookie Tyler Herro scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter for the Heat.
Duncan Robinson and Andre Iguodala scored 15 points apiece and Goran Dragic added 13 for Miami.
“This group, more than anything, they just love to compete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said as the Eastern Conference trophy was presented.
Herro contributed two baskets in a 9-0 scoring run that put the Heat up by 10 with 3:31 to play and Adebayo’s pass set Butler up for a layup that made it 116-102 with 2:40 remaining.
Fittingly, it was Adebayo who capped the scoring when he jammed in a reverse two-hander.
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 26 points, Jayson Tatum had 24 along with a career-high 11 assists, and Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker both scored 20 points for Boston.
But it’s the fifth-seeded Heat headed to the finals, the lowest seeded team to reach the championship series since the eighth-seeded New York Knicks lost to the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.
The Heat had emerged from a close first quarter with a 33-27 lead.
Tatum missed his first seven shots but warmed up with 12 points in the second quarter.
His driving layup with 1:56 left in the first half put Boston up 56-55 – their first lead since the first quarter.
Both teams were clicking offensively and they traded baskets and the lead to the break with Miami leading 62-60 at halftime.
Two days after the Celtics seized control of game five with a 41-point third quarter, it stayed close in the third.
The Heat led by as many as eight in a quarter that featured two lead changes.
Brown was fouled on a layup and converted the free throw to pull the Celtics within 86-4-84 with one minute remaining.
Smart powered to the rim for a dunk that tied it at 86-86 but Dragic’s reverse layup put Miami up 88-86 heading into the fourth.
‘Bam made sure’
The Celtics started strong in the final period, despite a scare when Brown landed from a dunk hard on his left leg and came up limping.
He stayed in the game, and it wasn’t long before he stripped Herro of the ball and raced for a layup that put the Celtics up 96-90 – but the Heat wouldn’t go away.
“Bam made sure that we won the game tonight,” Butler said.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the 23-year-old Adebayo’s determination and the Heat’s physicality were simply too much at the end.
“They’re strong, they’re physical, they’re tough and (Adebayo) in particular dominated that fourth quarter,” Stevens said. “Even the plays he didn’t score his presence was so impactful.”
Spoelstra said he hoped his players would take a night to savor their achievement in winning the conference before turning their attention to the challenge of the Lakers.
“I feel like we’ve still yet to play our absolute best basketball,” Butler said. “But we’re on the way. We realize what we have to do going forward. We have to be near-perfect to beat the Lakers. We are capable of it.”