On the left, the Miami Heat;  on the right, the Boston Celtics.

Does not matter. No matter what happens from now on, the Boston Celtics are already a champion team. They are so for their determination to prove it, for growing up against the strongest rivals and because, in the most feared scenario, with the starting lineup back, they once again remembered why they are the fittest team in the NBA. Last night, at the FTX Arena, where the Heat count 88% of their games for wins in the playoffsthe green pride, this time in black, shone like never before to knock down Miami and leave the Eastern Conference finals on the verge of candy (80-93; 2-3 in the series).

In a tight game, in which the first basket took more than two minutes to arrive, the Celtics knew how to move like a fish in water. The tone of the tie, full of big differences -in all duels there were advantages of more than 20 points-, seemed to have come to an end. But no. After the millimetric balance of the first half, Boston went up two gears around the locker room and broke Miami’s rhythm with a third quarter in which they doubled the score of the locals (16-32).

There, the Jay’s they activated. After a first half in which they registered their worst percentages so far this season, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown clenched their fists and tipped the scales towards the visiting side. In a performance in which he bordered on triple double (22 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists), Tatum became the second youngest player in history to reach 1,500 points in playoffs —24 years and 83 days—, only behind his idol Kobe Bryant. Brown, a guy with concerns beyond basketball, always in the shadow of his teammate, was the top scorer of the night with 25 points.

At 35, Al Horford, who seemed doomed to retirement a year ago in Philadelphia, also helped tear the Heat at the seams in the third quarter. With the score still tied, the Dominican, five times all starcrossed the track driving the ball and, as if it were a point guard, he overwhelmed the Miami defense, sealing a 2+1 that lifted the visiting bench like a spring.

Horford, leader of the locker room by veteran, was already decisive in the conference semifinals, where he was in charge of reducing Giannis Antetokounmpo, the greatest force of nature that inhabits the league. His pique with the Greek in the fourth game of the series left images to remember and, more importantly, a vital victory for his team in Milwaukee.

In addition, Ime Udoka recovered Marcus Smart, a sure value in defense that, added to Robert Williams III, turns the Celtics’ hoop into an impossible destination. Williams, nicknamed Time Lord (Time Lord) Since his arrival in the league, in 2018, when a Boston fan forum decided to give him the nickname, he has been the team’s biggest intimidator in the paint. Against the 2.03 meters of him, Bam Adebayo, a multi-edged sword for the rest of the rivals, does not finish finding his place. Last night, Miami missed its power, but it was not the only thing. Jimmy Butler was once again in very poor numbers, Kyle Lowry and Max Strus, starting point guard and shooting guard, only contributed four points, and Tyler Herro is still injured.

On the left, the Miami Heat;  on the right, the Boston Celtics.
On the left, the Miami Heat; on the right, the Boston Celtics.

Bad news for Erik Spoelstra, who has already seen himself in several like this, but who will have to reassemble in record time a team smeared by Boston’s overwhelming defense. Last night, after the umpteenth away win of the year, the Celtics returned to the locker room amid displays of enthusiasm and shouts of celebration: “Just one more!” (Just one more!, referring to Game 6 next Friday at TD Garden). If they keep their word, this generation of players will finally get their big break, a privilege Boston hasn’t competed for since 2010.

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