Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, and the intangibles which could swing Game 7 Boston Celtics vs Miami Heat

After many ups, downs, and the 2022 Eastern Conference finalsThe Miami Heat and Boston Celtics will be facing off in Game 7 at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday. This includes double-digit wins as well as injuries to star players. ET (on ESPN and the ESPN app).

The winner will be invited to play the Golden State Warriors during the NBA Finals. Game 1 takes place on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC, and the ESPN App.

Jimmy Butler was able to help Miami avoid elimination Friday night with his 47 points, 9 rebound and 8 assists. 111-103 Game 6 win Boston. Now, the Heat are the top-seeded and will attempt to take advantage of any home-court advantage despite being beaten by the Celtics 2-1 at FTX arena in this conference final series.

“You can put yourself in this situation, going down 3-2, to win two games,” said the Celtics coach. Ime Udoka said Saturday. “So, as much as it is your desire to finish it on home court, we have been up and down this series and it's right now.”

We asked ESPN experts to identify a player, coach or trend that could change the outcome of Game 7 and help one of these teams reach the Finals. Here are their responses:


Heat's Spoelstra orchestrating Game 7 chess matches

After emerging from 2020 Finals, which he ultimately lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, Erik Spoelstra evaluated LeBron James' strategy matchup.

“He was making adjustments on our adjustments to the adjustments. Spoelstra replied that he did not make an adjustment to the adjustment.

James, the Heat coach, was expressing his appreciation to Spoelstra for leading them to four Finals and two titles. Spoelstra offered a peek into his personal world.

Spoelstra is a top-notch coach and makes strategic moves during playoffs. He is considered a grandmaster during the seven-day-long chess matches, even if he pretends to be doing a move.

On Friday's Game 6, he realized that the Celtics were very well prepared for his zone defense. So in the second half, he created sudden double teams on Jayson Brown and Jaylen Tatum, which slowed down the Boston offense. It allowed the Heat to regain control of their game and helped stop any comeback attempts.

Sunday will be the sixth Game 7 Spoelstra coaching. He has won three, including the titles runs in 2012 and 2013, when James was his side. Game 7s are just one example of the Heat’s impressive institutional knowledge. Pat Riley has been involved with more than a dozen. He won three consecutive series in 1988 as a coach for the Lakers.

In 2012, Spoelstra shocked Boston by turning Chris Bosh into an efficient 3-point shooter. This was the last time Spoelstra played against the Celtics in Game 7. Bosh made three 3-pointers during the Heat's second half, after having missed four of his first 40 playoff games.

“We have earned this right [Game 7] Spoelstra stated Saturday that experience is the key to success.

Spoelstra was speaking about Game 6's road win and the year-long grind that gave the Heat the right as host. Spoelstra is more experienced than Celtics coach Ime Udoka. He also coached his first Game 7 and may have something else that he has to offer the Celtics.

— Brian Windhorst


Second-half performance key for Celtics pair Tatum and Brown

After a slow start, the Celtics had made a comeback and were trailing by two at halftime. Jayson Tatum & Jaylen brown combined to score 36 of Boston’s 46 points at midway.

Tatum, Brown, however disappeared when the second period began.

The Boston stars took seven shots together in the second quarter. Each took just one shot during the fourth quarter.

Inactivity like that won't help you win a Game 7 at home Sunday.

Tatum spoke of his second-half difficulties by saying that “It's just how the game was flowing.” “Obviously, you have to see the film, but I think it's just the flow of the game. I think being out in the open and feeling the game, drawing attention and trying to find mismatches.

Tatum is playing in the Eastern Conference final for the third time in his first five NBA seasons. Brown is playing in the Eastern Conference final for the fourth time in six years. They have been away from the East for a while, though. It was four years ago that they hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7.

Tatum made a memorable leap over LeBron James, but it was still the Cavaliers who advanced into the Finals. After Boston won Game 5, Tatum was questioned if it was different to be up 3-2 in this series. This is the same feeling that Boston felt in 2018.

Tatum replied, “Yeah it does.” “My rookie year, being up by 3-2, you'll notice a completely different team now. J.B. is much better. We're just older. We've seen those difficult times.”

These tough times prepared Tatum and Brown to this moment. They went through the same thing when they won Game 6 in Milwaukee to keep their East semifinals season alive. Then they came home to win Game 7.

The Celtics must now be able to rely on their leaders to perform Sunday, and not let the Heat distract them like they did in Game 6.

— Tim Bontemps


Heat star Butler should be all your attention

Boston's elite defense against Jimmy Butler has been the single biggest factor in this series and it will be the game to watch in Game 7. Miami will most likely advance if Butler plays another great game. If he doesn't, Boston will.

Boston's defense was among the best in the NBA, due to its ability to defend drives as well. The Celtics were first in the league, holding drivers to 0.93 points an average thanks to their skilled and long-lasting defenders.

The same crew was not at its best in Game 6. Butler turned pick actions into lucrative driving opportunities that propelled Miami onto the road.

Second Spectrum tracking indicates that Butler drove to the basket 10 times in Games 4 and 9 times in Games 5. In Game 6, Butler drove 23 times, which was tied for the most drives in any season. He also scored 20 points in paint, and added 11 at the line.

Kirk Goldsberry


Miami's long-term game could be fuelled by people who step up

It's been a consistent theme for the Heat during some of their biggest games in this postseason — when Max Strus Miami often wins with hits shots

Strus scored 15 points and made three beyond-the-arc shots in Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks, clinching the Eastern Conference quarterfinals series. In Games 5 and 6, Strus scored a total of 39 points, and he also made eight 3s which were good enough to spread the floor for his fellow teammates. In Game 3, against the Celtics, it had 16 points including a crucial 3-pointer in the final minutes that sealed the victory for Miami.

Strus made big shots in Game 6 of Eastern Conference finals. He also scored 13 points and added three more 3s. He did it in Game 6, after having missed 16 shots in Game 4, 5 and 5, which made it even more sweeter for the Heat team, who have built trust in Strus over the past two seasons.

With Tyler HerroDue to a groin injury, Strus' status for Game 7 is uncertain. It will be up the 26-year old sharpshooter to rise again when the Heat need him. Strus has proven that he isn't afraid of the stage during the playoff run, and now he can live up to his potential.

— Nick Friedell

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Ime Udoka is the Celtics head coach and shares his views on needing to play Game 7 in Miami.


Vegas favors Celtics even though they are on the road

For the right to host Game 7, the Heat had to play all of the regular season. The Celtics are one spot ahead of them as the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. Las Vegas isn’t impressed. At Caesars Sportsbook, Boston is still 2.5-point favorite.

This is just the third time a road team has been favored in a winner-take-all game since 1990-1991, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Houston Rockets lost Game 6 to the LA Clippers, which was also a semifinalist in the 2015 conference. In 2018, the Houston Golden State Warriors won the 2018 conference finals.

The Rockets won those two games but lost to the Clippers in 2015. In 2015, the Rockets beat the Clippers. In 2018, the Warriors defeated them. They went on to win their third consecutive championship in four years in 2018. The Celtics were also considered the lower seed in Game 7 of 2020. However, that game was played at a neutral location in the NBA's bubble restart.

It's not surprising that road Game 7 favorite have all appeared in the eight most recent postseasons. As home-court advantage has diminished in recent yearsSo it seems that Game 7 is the edge.

The home teams of Game 7 have been 13-8 (.619) without counting 2020. They have a plus-4.1 point differential during that time span. They were 22-9 (.710) in the 10 previous years with a plus-8.4 differential. Even that was a decrease from the huge advantage they had in the 1990s when home teams were 16-2 in Game 7s and outscored their opponents by an average 9.5 points per match.

The fact that the Celtics are favored on the road makes it more sense when you consider how they have outscored Miami during this series. Boston's plus-33 points differential through six games is seventh in NBA history. This advantage favors a lower seed in an eight-game series. They went 4-2 in Game 7 of the six previous games where the road team had a +30 differential or higher.

— Kevin Pelton


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