Lake Buena Vista, Florida – It took every bit of seven games, but Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics are headed to the Eastern Conference finals.
And they dethroned the NBA champions to get there.
Tatum scored 29 points, Jaylen Brown had 21 and the Celtics topped the Toronto Raptors 92-87 on Friday night in Game 7 of the East semifinal series.
Marcus Smart scored 16 points and Kemba Walker added 14 for third-seeded Boston. The Celtics will face the fifth-seeded Miami Heat in the East finals. That series starts Tuesday night.
“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.”
Fred VanVleet scored 20 points for Toronto, which got 16 from Kyle Lowry, 14 from Serge Ibaka, 13 from Pascal Siakam and 11 from Norman Powell. The Raptors were bidding to become the seventh franchise in NBA history to win four consecutive Game 7’s.
Boston scored the first seven points of the fourth, taking an eight-point lead. The Celtics never trailed in the final quarter, though it was close all the way to the end.
“We should definitely be hardened,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We should definitely have a lot more in our toolbox to go back to. But we also have to get ready for a different, more unique team now in Miami.”
It was the sixth consecutive Game 7 decided by five points or less, though it wasn’t always played like a classic. Toronto had 18 turnovers that Boston turned into 31 points; the Celtics shot 9-for-38 from 3-point range and 13-for-23 from the line.
“Man, it was a tough game to lose,” an emotional Lowry said. “But they won. Tip your hats to them. They have a chance to go on and play against Miami and get to the championship.”
Powell had a chance to tie it on a drive with just under a minute left, but his layup erased by Smart with a block that preserved an 89-87 lead. Lowry fouled out on the next possession, a call the Raptors argued and challenged to no avail. Grant Williams missed both free throws, but Powell fouled Tatum going for the rebound.
Tatum made one of two, the lead was three and all Boston needed was one more stop.
The Celtics got just that; VanVleet was well short on a 3-point try, Walker sealed it with free throws with 7.9 seconds left, and Toronto’s reign was about to end.
It was exactly one year ago Friday when four Celtics — Walker, Smart, Brown and Tatum — were part of the USA Basketball team in China that fell apart in the fourth quarter of a Basketball World Cup quarterfinal against France, a loss that kept the Americans out of the Final Four of that tournament.
Not this time. Not this year.
Next week, there will be four NBA teams left standing. The Celtics will be one of them.
“It’s about will, determination, resiliency,” Brown said. “A lot of that stuff you can’t find on the stat sheet.”
Nuggets 111, Clippers 105
Paul Millsap scored 14 of his 17 points in the third quarter, Michael Porter Jr. made a late 3-pointer and Denver overcame a 15-point deficit inthe second half to stun Los Angeles in Game 5.
Denver — down 16 in the first half — trailed 61-46 with 9:42 remaining in the third before rallying behind the 35-year-old Millsap.
The Nuggets took their first lead on Nikola Jokic’s 3-pointer with 7:06 left and extended it to eight. After the Clippers pulled within a basket, Porter hit a deep 3-pointer with 1:11 remaining to all but wrap it up.
Jamal Murray finished with 26 points, and Jokic added 22 points and 14 rebounds to help the Nuggets pull to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is Sunday.
Kawhi Leonard scored 36 points and Paul George added 26 for the Clippers.