BOSTON — Six weeks after standing within minutes of missing the playoffs, the Miami Heat are headed to the NBA Finals for the seventh time in the franchise’s 35 seasons and the sixth time since 2011 under coach Erik Spoelstra.
The improbable, implausible, seemingly impossible rolls on, next stop a Rocky Mountain high for Thursday’s start of the league’s championship series against the Western Conference champion Denver Nuggets.
Making their most emphatic statement of a postseason that already had ended the seasons of the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks and No. 5 New York Knicks, the Heat went into TD Garden and defeated the No. 2 Boston Celtics in Game 7 the Eastern Conference finals 103-84 Monday night.
No, they didn’t do it the easy way, going from a 3-0 lead in the East finals to a 3-3 tie entering Monday’s game, in danger of becoming the first NBA team to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series, a record that instead stands at 151-0.
But from a 44-38 regular-season finish, a seventh-place close in the East and No. 8 conference seed, there is a best-of-seven shot for the franchise’s fourth championship after titles in 2006, ’12 and ’13.
Just the second No. 8 seed to make the NBA Finals, joining the 1999 Knicks, the Heat were able to regroup in front of a hostile, animated crowd after Saturday’s stunning last-second Game 6 loss at Kaseya Center, when the Celtics won on a putback basket by guard Derrick White with one-tenth of a second to play.
This time, the Heat set the tone early in jumping out to a 17-point first-half lead and later extending the advantage into the 20s.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 26 points, adding seven rebounds and six assists. He was supported by a season-high 26 points and 10 rebounds from Caleb Martin. Those numbers were needed on a night Heat center Bam Adebayo was limited to 12 points, albeit also with 10 rebounds and seven assists.
The Celtics, who never gained their footing, got 19 points from Jaylen Brown and 18 from White, on a night Jayson Tatum was limited to 14.
And to think, on April 14, in their winner-take-all play-in game against the visiting Chicago Bulls, the Heat trailed until aButler layup put them ahead for good with 2:17 to play.
That close to nothing in the playoffs.
Now the chance for everything, with Spoelstra becoming just the seventh coach with at least six NBA Finals appearances.
Five Degrees of Heat from Monday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 22-15 at the end of the first period, a quarter the Celtics shot 0 for 10 on 3-pointers, the first time they missed every 3-point attempt in a quarter this season. The 15 points were the Celtics’ fewest in a quarter this postseason.
The Heat then took a 52-41 lead into the intermission and a 76-66 advantage into the fourth.
From there, the Heat pushed their lead into the 20s by the midpoint in the final period, with the Celtics emptying their bench shortly thereafter.
2. Martin mania: Martin continued to inject the Heat with energy when needed most.
This time he was up to 14 points and seven rebounds by halftime. That was with the NBA Replay Center removing a point from Martin’s total, when what earlier had been scored as a Martin 3-pointer was changed to a two-point basket. Martin nonetheless led both teams in scoring the first half.
He then stood with a game-high 23 points through three quarters, with Martin often deferring to Martin.
Last year, Martin did not play, out of the rotation, when the Heat lost Game 7 of the 2022 Eastern Conference finals to the Celtics.
3. Exhaust fumes: It again was a struggle for Adebayo, who was forced to the bench with his third foul with 2:41 left in the second period.
In the wake of a pair of uneven games, he stood with four points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half.
Butler also started slow, his explosiveness nowhere close to where it was early in the series and earlier in the playoffs, but worked himself to 11 points by the half, able to get four minutes of first-half rest after playing 46:40 in Game 6, a game Adebayo played 45:39.
4. Rotation alteration: After removing Kevin Love from the starting lineup and going small with Martin at the outset of Game 5, the Heat went even smaller this time, playing Haywood Highsmith as the de facto center when Adebayo was out in the first half.
That not only had Love out of the mix for a second game, but this time Cody Zeller also was shuffled aside.
Instead, the Heat limited the reserve rotation to Highsmith, who had not played in Game 6, Duncan Robinson and Kyle Lowry.
Love and Zeller had been the Heat featured additions during February’s buyout period.
5. What’s next: It’s now on to the NBA Finals for the Heat.
NBA Finals schedule
Thursday: Game 1, Heat at Nuggets, Ball Arena, 8:30 p.m.(ABC)
Sunday: Game 2, Heat at Nuggets, Ball Arena, 8 p.m. (ABC)
June 7: Game 3, Nuggets at Heat, Kaseya Center, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)
June 9: Game 4, Nuggets at Heat, Kaseya Center, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)
June 12: Game 5, Heat at Nuggets, Ball Arena, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)*
June 15: Game 6, Nuggets at Heat, Kaseya Center, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)*
June 18: Game 7, Heat at Nuggets, Ball Arena, 8 p.m. (ABC)*
* – If necessary.