On Friday, September 11, the Boston Celtics beat the Toronto Raptors, the defending champs, in game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals (BOS – 92 TOR – 87). The Celtics will be advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years and will face the Miami Heat. The recent two attempts at this stage in 2017 and 2018 had been stifled by LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics hope to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in ten years, when they lost a heartbreaking seven game series to the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics pulled away late in game seven with stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scoring 29 points and 21 points, respectively. Fred VanVleet was Toronto’s leading scorer with 20 points. The Raptors struggled offensively in the fourth quarter and were unable to close Boston’s lead. However, this was not the case in game six, where the Raptors won in a highly competitive game that went to double overtime (TOR – 125 BOS – 122). Or in game three, where small forward OG Anunoby hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to bring in a win for Toronto (TOR – 104 BOS – 103).
With superstar Kawhi Leonard leaving the Raptors for the LA Clippers this past offseason, Toronto needed other players to step up. Although Toronto stars VanVleet and point guard Kyle Lowry played well this post-season, they could not completely fill the gap that Kawhi left on the team. Now, Kawhi and the LA Clippers are still fighting to get to the Western Conference finals and are up three games to two against the Denver Nuggets.
The first game of the Eastern Conference Finals is scheduled for Tuesday, September 15. The Miami Heat knocked out the one seed in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks, in a five-game series clinching their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Team leader, veteran Jimmy Butler, lead the mostly young Miami Heat in defeating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the favored Milwaukee team.
When the Heat last played the Celtics in the Conference Finals in 2012, the Heat won in seven games. At that time, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston’s big three, could not beat Miami’s LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. The two teams’ rosters now look very different than they did in 2012. Celtics’ point guard, Kemba Walker, who is on his first year with the Celtics, lost to the Heat twice in the playoffs while on Charlotte. According to ESPN.com, when asked to comment on the upcoming series, Walker said, “To be here in my first year and accomplish this, getting to the Eastern Conference finals to play against a really good Miami Heat team, we have a chance to advance past that, it’s big time.”
It has been a strange year for sports and life in general. The NBA bubble, which is in Disney World in Orlando, Florida, will house the remainder of the NBA Playoffs. Fans at their homes will continue to be virtually shown in the crowd. The bubble has been very effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19. This comes at the cost of strict rules for players, coaches and anyone else in the bubble.
Although this NBA season has been unorthodox, fans should be happy that there has been playoff basketball to enjoy.