Boston Celtics big-man Al Horford called Jayson Tatum a "special player" after they came back from a 12-point deficit at three-quarter time to defeat the Golden State Warriors 120-108 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Celtics were on the ropes after the Warriors unleashed a 38-24 third-quarter to seemingly take control of the contest, threatening to run away with things as Stephen Curry had 30 points up to three-quarter time.

But the Warriors had no answer for the barrage from long range that came in the final period, with the Celtics hitting nine-of-12 from deep in the quarter and 21-of-41 for the game as the two sides combined to hit a Finals record 40 three-pointers.

The Celtics ended up shooting 15-of-22 from the field in the fourth, winning the quarter 40-16, despite Tatum not scoring in the final 16 minutes of play. 

Instead, Tatum finished with a career-high 13 assists, and Al Horford – who himself had a career-high six three-pointers with his 26 points – told NBA TV that the league is seeing the evolution of the Celtics star.

"He's letting people know man, Jayson is a special player," he said."Even this year, the growth is unbelievable with him. 

"He's the kind of guy where – tonight he was passing, getting assists, getting other people involved while he struggled a little bit shooting – but he's always going to find a way. He's always going to continue to get better.

"That's who we follow – offensively he gets us going, he defends, and then he has the responsibility to find and make plays for others. His maturation is unbelievable, it's something I'm really proud of, because I've seen him grow."

He added: "When the Celtics trade happened, it was something I was grateful for, and straight away I told Jayson. 

"I said 'hey, I can't wait for us to be in those positions, in Conference Finals, and the NBA Finals' – because I believed that much in the group, and I believed that much in him."

When asked about his new career-high in his post-game media appearance, Tatum said it was something first-year head coach Ime Udoka addressed at the start of their relationship.

"That was kind of his message from day-one, just to challenge me to be the best player I can be, and improve other areas of my game," he said.

"We watched a lot of film throughout the course of the season… obviously playmaking was one [area of focus], drawing a lot of attention, and just to help my team out as much as possible.

"He's done a great job of challenging myself, and the group in that aspect."

Tatum was key in keeping the Celtics offense clicking, but his shot was not falling, finishing three-of-17 from the field. 

When asked how he felt about his inability to put the ball in the basket, Tatum emphasised his team-first mentality.

"Ecstatic – 40 points in the fourth quarter," he said. "[Jaylen Brown], Al, Payton [Pritchard], [Derrick] White, those guys made big shots, and timely shots, as well.

"And we won, right. I had a bad shooting night, but I just tried to impact the game in other ways. 

"We're in the Finals, all I was worried about was trying to get a win, and we did. That's all that matters at this point.

"I don't expect to shoot that bad again, but if it means we keep winning, I'll take it."

The Warriors were aggressive in trying to make sure Tatum had no clean looks, and he said sometimes basketball is a simple game.

"Just reading the play – they do a great job of helping, and things like that," he said.

"It's as simple as – if you draw two, find somebody that's open. That's what I was trying to do."

He added: "This time of the season, you feel great after a win, and you feel terrible when you lose, but you've got to just be able to stay mellow, and stay balanced.

"Especially this early – it's far from over, it's just one game, and we have to be ready to respond.

"They're going to make adjustments... we've got to be prepared."

Game 2 will remain in Golden State, before the series heads to Boston for Game 3 and Game 4.

The Boston Celtics won Game 1 of the NBA Finals 120-105 on the road against the Golden State Warriors, with the teams combining for the most made three-pointers ever in a Finals game.

Early on it looked like it was going to be the Stephen Curry show, as he finished the first quarter with 21 points – hitting an NBA Finals record six threes in a quarter, from eight attempts – as the Warriors led 32-28 at the first break.

Boston's adjustments at quarter-time had an immediate effect, holding Curry scoreless in the second period while winning the quarter 28-22, heading into half-time leading 56-54.

Jayson Tatum struggled with his shooting, but made up for it with his playmaking, with seven assists in the first half, while Jaylen Brown had 12 points and Marcus Smart had 10 to pick up the slack.

A consistent theme with the great Warriors teams of recent years, their ability to explode in the third quarter in front of their home fans was on full display, hitting six-of-11 threes coming out of half-time.

Andrew Wiggins had 12 points in the quarter, Curry had nine, and Jordan Poole had seven, as that trio combined for 28 to carry the Warriors to a 38-24 period, earning a 92-80 lead heading into the last.

As impressive as the third quarter was for the Warriors, the fourth was even more so for the Celtics, as their red-hot shooting coincided with their best defensive stretch of the game.

The Celtics shot nine-of-12 from long range in the fourth, and 15-of-22 from the field, while holding the Warriors to just seven made field goals, turning the last period into a 40-16 rout.

It was a historic game from beyond the arc as the two sides combined to hit an NBA Finals record of 40 threes, with the Celtics shooting a blistering 51 per cent (21-of-41) while the Warriors were also terrific at 42 per cent (19-of-45).

Boston's Al Horford hit a career-high from long range, going six-of-eight on his way to 26 points, while Derrick White set a new season-high from deep, hitting five-of-eight for his crucial 21 points off the bench.

Tatum finished three-of-17 from the field, scoring 12 points, but he was the architect of the Celtics' hot shooting night as he dished a career-high 13 assists, punishing Warriors defensive collapses after his initial dribble penetration.

Jaylen Brown finished with 24 points (10-of-23 shooting) with seven rebounds and five assists, while Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart had 18 points (seven-of-11 shooting, four-of-seven from deep) to go with five rebounds, four assists and two steals.

For the Warriors, Curry finished with 34 points (12-of-25 shooting), five rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Andrew Wiggins had 20 points (eight-of-15 shooting) with three steals and one block.

Game 2 will remain in San Francisco, before they head to Boston for Game 3 and Game 4.

Jayson Tatum admitted there were tough times as pundits questioned whether he and star teammate Jaylen Brown could ever win at the highest level, but insisted it only pulled them closer together.

It was a stark fall from grace for the duo after an incredible start to their career when - with Brown drafted in 2016 and Tatum in 2017 - the pair made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in Tatum's rookie season.

They made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020 during the 'bubble' season, but struggled to follow it up on the way to being dominated by the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2021 playoffs.

It was a poor start to this season as well, as injuries and adjusting to new coach Ime Udoka had the Celtics in 11th place as late in the season as January 16, but during NBA Finals Media Day Tatum said he never doubted what he could accomplish with his partner-in-crime.

"I honestly believe it's just two young, extremely competitive guys who just really want to win at all costs," he said.

"Obviously, that made us closer in a sense of, we just wanted to figure it out. Not necessarily prove people wrong, but just prove that we can win, and put ourselves in the position to do that.

"And it was tough – at a certain time we were three games under .500, and the 11th seed. I'm sure not many people would have thought we'd have got to this point.

"But there was always a sense of belief between us and the group that we were capable of figuring it out."

He added: "It was very frustrating, head-scratching and all those types of things. It was more so just how can we figure it out, not 'we can't do this' or 'we got to figure something else out'.

"It was tough, there were definitely some tough moments – because I always remember the fun moments.

"My first year, going to the Conference Finals, and the 'bubble' year, going to the Conference Finals – when we were winning all the time.

"At the beginning of this year, every game was like 'I don't know if we're going to win' – it was a lot tougher than it probably should be, and that was something I wasn't used to."

Tatum also addressed feelings of personal doubt as he quickly rose to super-stardom at a young age.

"I'll be honest, there's been times when I've questioned 'am I the right person to lead a group like this?'," he said.

"I never, like, doubted myself, but you know, just moments after some of those losses in the tougher parts of the season, it's human nature to question yourself and things like that.

"But always stick to what you believe in, and trust in the work you put in. It can't rain forever."

Brown shared a similar sentiment about his All-NBA First Team running-mate, saying he always felt like they would figure it out.

"I think that we've been able to win in our career," he said. "Last year, obviously things didn't work out for other reasons, but this year I didn't feel like it was because of the way we played basketball.

"I just think things didn't come together at the right time. Early on in the season I was injured, I missed about 15 games, and the narrative isn't going to say that, they're just going to say 'you guys lost' – it doesn't matter what the excuse is.

"We had a first-year head coach and we were trying to figure it out, and we play in a city that has no patience for any excuses, so we didn't make any, but as things started to come together, we got healthier.

"We made a couple of moves in the front office that were vital for us, and things started to fall in line."

He added: "I've always had unwavering faith, even in the midst of situations that look like things are about to go in a direction that nobody wants to go in, I've always had faith in this group, and this organisation, and myself that we'll be alright.

"In those moments where we lost, I knew we had so much to learn, I knew that I had so much to learn, so if anything it was more encouraging to learn from my mistakes, and get better for the next year. 

"I didn't have any time to question myself, or question what's in front of me, because my belief was so strong."

After making it to the biggest stage, Tatum reflected on what it feels like to be making his dreams come true.

"I just kind of reverted back to being a kid – watching the Finals every year growing up," he said.

"Every kid can imagine themselves being in the NBA, and being in the Finals, but actually living out your dream in real-time is a surreal feeling. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself.

"I walk in and I see this [NBA Finals-themed] backdrop – and it's like 'damn, I am in the Finals' – so I'm just trying to take all this in, and just enjoy the moment.

"It definitely does feel different. There's a lot more media, a lot more obligations.

"So it definitely does feel different – I'm sure basketball is still basketball – but all the things leading up to it are unlike anything else."

The Boston Celtics have made sure to do it the hard way en route to the NBA Finals.

Sometimes this can suggest a team's name is on the trophy; look at Real Madrid's remarkable run in European football's Champions League before winning their record-extending 14th title.

The Celtics, an organisation with similar prestige, will hope they can now follow suit.

After all, this is a team who reached the turn of the year with a 17-19 record under a rookie coach, then recovered to take the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Having worked so hard to secure home court in the second round of the playoffs, the Celtics lost to a Milwaukee Bucks outfit missing Khris Middleton in Game 5, falling 3-2 behind in the series and requiring another fightback.

Then the Celtics again failed to make the most of the Boston crowd in the Eastern Conference Finals, allowing the Miami Heat to return home for a Game 7.

Still, the Celtics made it through, and now they must take on the Golden State Warriors, back in contention and looking to extend the sort of dynasty Madrid would be proud of.

The Warriors are going to their sixth Finals in eight seasons; Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have played in each of them.

On the other hand, the Celtics are in their first Finals since 2010 – Curry's rookie season. Not a single member of the Boston roster has reached this stage before.

And yet, against the Warriors of all teams, the Celtics should have little to fear.

This is a battle of defense versus offense – Boston allowed a league-low 104.5 points per game in the regular season, while Golden State have scored a season-high 114.5 points per game in the playoffs – and it is a battle the Celtics have won numerous times in recent seasons.

In the 10 years since the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors came together, the Celtics are 10-10 against Golden State. Boston are the only team with a winning record (9-7) against Steve Kerr's Warriors, and they are a hugely impressive 7-3 in this matchup since drafting Jayson Tatum in 2017.

Before splitting this season's two-game series, the Celtics had won five in a row against the Warriors.

The key to this success has been defense. The Celtics have held both the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors (103.3 points per game) and Kerr's Warriors (104.4) to fewer points than any other defense. The same is true of Boston in Tatum's five years in the league, during which they have outscored Golden State 110.7-103.1 on average.

In Curry and Thompson, the Warriors boast two of the best shooters of all time, yet the Celtics have repeatedly forced them to take bad shots.

In the past five years, the Warriors have attempted just 83.2 field goals per game against the Celtics – only mustering fewer against the Detroit Pistons (80.8) – yet they have had a lofty 36.5 three-point attempts on average in these games. That means 43.9 per cent of Golden State's field goal attempts against the Celtics since 2017 have come from beyond the arc, attempting a higher percentage of their shots from deep against the Brooklyn Nets alone (44.1).

Given the talent in this Warriors team, shooting from range is not generally an issue, yet they have made just 31.8 per cent of those threes – again only performing worse against the Nets (31.4 per cent).

This has contributed to the Warriors making a meagre 43.1 per cent of their field goals against the Celtics, comfortably their worst rate against any team over this period.

Still, with the title on the line, the Warriors will undoubtedly back themselves to overcome this hurdle.

Curry (52.6 per cent), Thompson (50.0) and Jordan Poole (50.0) are all counted among the 10 players to attempt 10 or more contested shots (with the closest defender within two feet) and make at least half in this postseason.

Curry and Poole are two of only five players to make such a shot from three-point range, although that Golden State trio are a combined two-for-eight from beyond the arc in these circumstances – a record that does not look quite so bad next to Heat wing Max Strus' miserable one-for-seven shooting on contested threes. Four of those low-percentage shots came in the Celtics series alone.

The Warriors have not yet faced an elite defense in this playoff run, with the four best teams on that end of the floor operating in the East.

It figures that the best offense should emerge from the West, where teams averaged 109.2 points per game in the postseason, while the standout defense came out of the East, with playoff teams averaging 103.9 points.

The Finals will surely, therefore, be decided by what sort of series this becomes.

Tatum may be out to prove himself as one of the best players in the world, but the Celtics' success in keeping Curry, Thompson and Poole quiet is likely to be far more pivotal to their hopes.

As long ago as December, when his team were toiling, Celtics coach Ime Udoka explained: "The identity is to rely on defense, be a great defensive team and give ourselves a chance every night as far as that."

They have done that just about ever since – and now it is time to prove their winning identity can be a title-winning identity.

So here we are, after all that basketball in 2021-22, we come down to the final pair as the Golden State Warriors take on the Boston Celtics to decide the destination of this year's NBA championship.

It was a relatively smooth route for the Warriors after a 4-1 win against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, while the Celtics went to Game 7 for the second round in a row, eventually overcoming the Miami Heat.

Having been able to rest up since they sealed their place in the finals on Friday, Steve Kerr's team will be heavily fancied to win their first title since 2018.

Golden State were electric against Dallas, with all four of their wins being by a margin of at least nine, and even managing to overcome the outrageously talented Luka Doncic, winning Games 2 and 3 despite 40 or more points in both coming from the Slovenian.

It is no surprise that Stephen Curry is leading the way for the Warriors, averaging 25.9 points per game in the postseason, as well as 6.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

His three-pointer attempts have been a little wayward by his own very high standards, making 60 of 158 attempts in the playoffs, just three more than Klay Thompson (57 from 143 shots), who himself is playing more than just a support role.

Thompson is averaging 19.8 points per game, while Jordan Poole is not far behind with 18.4.

Andrew Wiggins also deserves credit for his contribution, averaging 15.8 and scoring 27 in the Game 3 win against the Mavs at the American Airlines Center, and a good example of how Kerr's team can get at you from anywhere on the court.

 

All that being said, the Celtics have shown themselves to be big-game players during the playoffs, overcoming both the defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks and the number one seeds in the East, the Heat.

Jayson Tatum has invariably been the main man, averaging 27.0 points in the playoffs along with 5.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Like the Warriors, though, Boston are able to spread the responsibility, with Tatum's 26 against the Heat in Game 7 supplemented by 24 each from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

The Celtics are in the finals for the first time since 2010, and it feels like they have shown the backbone needed to go all the way, even against a supremely talented Warriors side.

Ime Udoka could cement his legacy in Boston, admitting after overcoming the Heat they will need to go one better to be remembered, saying: "We don't hang or celebrate Eastern Conference championships in the Celtics organisation, so we all fall in line and appreciate that standard of excellence."

Udoka against Kerr could be the most interesting contest across the NBA Finals, but all over the court there are intriguing narratives and plenty of top-class basketball to witness.

Whoever rises to the top, they will surely be worthy champions.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors – Draymond Green

The outspoken 32-year-old said on his podcast recently that whatever happens, "the dynasty been stamped" for this Warriors team.

A fourth NBA title in eight years would be quite a convincing way to stamp it further, and Green is likely to play a big role if that is to happen.

In the playoffs, he has been averaging 2.8 turnovers, 8.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game. He racked up nine assists in the clincher against the Mavs, as well as sinking six of seven field goal attempts.

Boston Celtics – Al Horford

After a year each at the Philadelphia 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder, Horford came back to Boston to try and finally reach the NBA Finals, and he has done just that.

His ability to stop the opposition and tidy up attacks could well be key against an opposition with danger-men all over the place.

Horford has averaged 8.1 defensive rebounds in the playoffs, including 12 in the Game 7 win against the Heat, and managed three turnovers in three different games during that series.

KEY BATTLE – Will defense win the championship?

Following on from Horford's ability to snatch the ball in defense, these two were both in the top four in the league in the regular season for defensive rebounds, with Golden State second overall with 2,930, while Boston were fourth on 2,915.

One thing the Celtics will need to be aware of is the Warriors' ability to steal, making the fourth most in the league in the regular season (719), while the Celtics were only in 19th place (591).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Celtics will be especially confident based on recent match-ups, having won six of their past seven meetings with the Warriors, including a 110-88 win at Chase Center in their most-recent contest in March.

Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said he wanted to "honour" Kobe Bryant, after his side advanced to the NBA Finals on Sunday, defeating the Miami Heat 100-96 on Sunday.

For Game 7, Tatum wore an armband in the colours of the Celtics' long-time rival Los Angeles Lakers – a purple armband with his idol Bryant's number 24 for the Lakers stitched on in gold.

The 24-year-old went on to put up 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal in just over 45 minutes on the court, taking out the inaugural Larry Bird trophy for Eastern Conference Finals MVP.

While explaining the inspiration behind the armband, Tatum said afterwards how Boston securing their first finals appearance since 2010 and his MVP award all feels surreal.

"That was my inspiration, that was my favourite player," he said post-game. The shoes I wore in the last couple of games were dedicated to him and today, before I took my nap, I was watching some film and some moments from his career. I wanted to wear that armband to honour him and kind of share that moment.

"It's an honour. It still doesn't even seem real right now, but I'm extremely happy and grateful for all of this. Regardless of how long I've been in the league, I'm not too far removed from when I was in high school, dreaming about moments like this.

"I still feel like a kid, sometimes, in that I'm truly living out my dream. To be the first person to win this award, after Larry Bird, it still hasn't sunk in yet."

Boston's playoff opponents to secure the Eastern Conference title were also the three to eliminate them in each of the previous three seasons.

Aside from their progression past the Brooklyn Nets this season, the Celtics engaged in highly physical battles in series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Heat to get to the finals.

According to Tatum, those playoff losses inspired them to get out of the East this time around.

"It was the biggest game of our season and my career, and I just had faith that we were going to give it all we had, regardless of the outcome," he said. "To get over this hump in the fashion that we did it - obviously we took the toughest route possible, winning Game 7 to go to the championship on the road, it's special.

"Losing my first year and losing to these guys in the bubble, I think going through those tough times helped us grow, helped us learn and once we get in that situation again, we'd respond differently.

"In the moment, when you lose those series, obviously it hurts and it's tough, but you never forget it. I think that's what we all had in common, that we had all been through those tough times and we remembered how that felt, and we didn't want to have that feeling again leaving here tonight."

The Celtics will now face the Golden State Warriors, with Game 1 taking place in San Francisco on Thursday.

Jayson Tatum is full of confidence that the Boston Celtics will bounce back against the Miami Heat and seal a place in the NBA Finals.

Jimmy Butler turned in one of the great playoff displays for the Heat on Friday as a 111-103 away win forced the Eastern Conference Finals series to Game 7, tied at 3-3.

Butler scored a playoff career-high 47 points, claimed nine rebounds and provided eight assists, with 17 of his points coming in the final quarter.

While the momentum might now be with the Heat, who have home-court advantage for the final game of the series, Tatum believes the Celtics can step up.

Asked what his confidence level was heading into Game 7, Tatum replied: "On a scale from 1-10 – 10. It shouldn't be any less than that, right? You know, it's the last game. This is what it's all about. 

"On a scale from 1-10, it's a 10 for my confidence level in myself and the group.

"It's no secret, it's Game 7. A trip to the NBA Finals – there's a lot on the line.

"A couple of us have been in this situation before, so we know what's at stake, we know how much this means to everybody. We know that going into the game."

Tatum led the way for Boston, scoring 30 points and finishing with nine rebounds and four assists, though he only made one shot in the fourth quarter while Butler took hold at the other end.

"I think it was just in the flow of the game, and how the game was going," Tatum said.

"Obviously I've got to watch the film, and things like that, but I think being out there, and the feel of the game, I was drawing a lot of attention.

"I was trying to find a mismatch, obviously, and when I find it, they sent a double, so I'd find the open man. I think it was just kind of how the flow of the game was going."

Jimmy Butler played the game of his life to lift the Miami Heat to a 111-103 win away from home against the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday.

The win keeps the Heat's season alive, tying the series at 3-3, with Game 7 heading back to Miami on Sunday.

Butler had complete control of the game throughout, scoring 21 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing six assists – and that was just in the first half, single-handedly carrying the Heat to a 48-46 lead at the long break.

He went on to finish with a playoff career high of 47 points on 16-of-29 shooting (four-of-eight from three, 11-of-11 free throws) with nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals – scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter – as he played 46 minutes, including the entire second half.

Butler was the driving force for the Heat, but they shot the ball well as a team, hitting 15-of-35 three-pointers (42 per cent) as Kyle Lowry and Max Strus hit big shots when they were needed, combining for seven made threes.

Lowry, after a combined 14 points and eight assists in the three contests prior to Game 6 he was healthy for, scored 18 points (five-of-14 from the field, four-of-nine from deep) and dished 10 assists, while Max Strus hit three-of-eight from long range for his 12 points.

Jayson Tatum finished with a strong stat-line, scoring 30 points with nine rebounds, four assists and two steals, but he had seven turnovers, only attempted 12 field goals (nine-of-12), and only scored one field goal in the fourth quarter when the Celtics were desperate for their superstar to impose his will.

Derrick White was arguably the Celtics' best performer, scoring 22 points (seven-of-14 shooting, four-of-seven from three) with five assists and three steals off the bench, while Jaylen Brown was also solid, scoring 20 (six-of-13 shooting) with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Ultimately, it will be remembered as Butler's greatest performance, attempting more field goals than Brown and Tatum combined, while having the best defense in the NBA entirely focused on him, and delivering efficiently from all areas while the lights shined their brightest.

With his Game 6 showing, he became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1988 to have multiple games in a playoff series with at least 40 points and four steals.

The Boston Celtics claimed critical home-court advantage and a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, earning a gritty 93-80 Game 5 win against the Miami Heat on Wednesday.

In all four quarters the Celtics held the Heat to 23 points or fewer, but the offensive side of the ball was also far from clicking early on.

The Heat led 19-17 at quarter-time and after winning the second frame 23-20, they held an incredibly low-scoring 42-37 lead at the long break.

In the first half, both teams shot under 39 per cent from the field and 26 per cent from three-point range, but the Heat were winning the physical battle on the boards, pulling in nine offensive rebounds to just two for the Celtics.

The two teams also combined for just six fast-break points in the first half, illustrating the slow, grinding pace of play as both defences locked in, forcing better ball and man movement.

Back in Game 1, also in Miami, the Heat who came out of the locker room for the third quarter and went on a rampage to swing that game, but this time the shoe was on the other foot.

The Celtics doubled up the Heat in the third period, winning it 32-16 as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford found rhythm on the offensive end.

Boston led 69-58 after three quarters, and extended that lead to 23 points in the opening minutes of the final frame, as Brown knocked down three big triples.

After a first half where he was the subject of plenty of criticism for his loose ball handling – with four first-half turnovers – Brown made the difference after half-time, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting and five-of-nine from long range. He also had no turnovers in the second half, and the biggest dunk of the game.

Jayson Tatum was also at his playmaking best, with 22 points on a mediocre seven-of-20 shooting, but he added 12 rebounds and nine assists, consistently creating opportunities for shooters off the dribble and showing advanced ability to make reads as play unfolded.

The real story of the Celtics' success was their ability to take away the three-point line for the Heat, though.

With Jimmy Butler's jump shots not falling – finishing with 13 points on four-of-18 shooting – Miami simply had no avenue to reliable outside scoring.

The Celtics' ability to chase hard over the top of screens and dribble hand-offs made life miserable for Max Strus and Duncan Robinson, taking away their catch-and-shoot opportunities and turning them into dribblers, far outside their comfort zones. 

Strus finished zero-of-nine from the field, missing all seven of his three-point attempts, while Robinson was four-of-12, including three-of-10 from long range. As a team, the Heat were just seven-of-45 (15 per cent) from beyond the arc.

Instead, the Celtics dared the Heat to beat them inside, banking on the stoutness of their terrific interior defensive duo of Horford and Robert Williams III. That pairing combined for 17 rebounds, five blocks, two steals and just one foul.

Game 6 will head back to Boston, meaning the first-seeded Heat need to win on the road to save their season and force a Game 7.

Nikola Jokic was named in the All-NBA first team ahead of Joel Embiid and alongside Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Devin Booker in Tuesday evening's announcement.

Jokic pipped fellow center Embiid for the NBA's 2021-22 MVP award earlier this month and the Serbian again got the nod in that position in the All-NBA first team, although the Philadelphia 76ers star was eligible as a forward but also missed out.

While Jokic and Embiid split votes, Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo was the only unanimous selection in the first team.

Antetokounmpo became the first player over the past 50 years to be a unanimous selection to the All-NBA first team in four straight seasons.

Tatum and Booker were both selected to the All-NBA first team for the first time.

Embiid led the selections for the second team, alongside DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Ja Morant.

LeBron James was named to the third team, with Pascal Siakam, Karl-Anthony Towns, Chris Paul and Trae Young.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd hailed Luka Doncic after his starring role in their Game 4 win over the Golden State Warriors having been named in the All-NBA first team earlier on Tuesday.

Doncic had a near triple-double with 30 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists as the Mavericks won 119-109 over the Warriors to avoid a clean sweep.

Earlier in the day, Doncic had been named alongside Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker in the All-NBA first team for the third time in his career.

"I don’t think anybody is surprised that he's first team but it's really cool," Kidd told reporters.

"It shows the talent level. The other four are pretty talented too. It shows where he's going, his growth."

Kidd was full of praise for Doncic, who also had two steals and two blocks in Game 4, playing a key role in the fourth quarter to ward off the Warriors' late charge.

"What he does for this team is incredible, not just points and assists, but being able to rebound the ball," Kidd said.

"At the end, he came up with a nice little blocked shot to pad his defensive stats. He's our leader. When he goes, we go. He loves that stage.

"Being first team with the other four, it's a great honour for him."

Doncic, 23, was delighted with the accolade, which comes for the third straight season, having joined the Mavs in 2018.

"It's a blessing," Doncic told reporters. "As a kid I only dreamed of being in the NBA, and now it's my third All-NBA team.

"It's a blessing. I'm really happy and thankful to everybody that made it happen."

Doncic was also hopeful about the Mavericks in the Conference Finals despite history being against his side, who trail the Warriors 3-1.

Tuesday's win was the Mavs' fourth in franchise history in a Game 4 when facing a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series, losing Game 5 on the previous three occasions. Golden State has led 10 playoff series 3-0 in the past, sweeping six and winning in five on four occasions.

"I still believe we can win," Doncic said when asked if he was relieved to avoid a sweep.

"Swept or not swept, in the end, if you lose, you lose. It doesn’t matter how many you win, but we have to go game by game. We're going to believe until the end."

Jayson Tatum never doubted himself after a poor Game 3 performance, returning to a starring role as the Boston Celtics dominated the Miami Heat 102-82 in Game 4.

The Celtics had their backs to the wall in the latest tussle of the Eastern Conference Finals, with the threat of heading back to Miami for Game 5 trailing 3-1, but they made sure it was not a nervous night for the Boston faithful.

Derrick White – returning to the starting line-up after the birth of his son – started in place of the injured Marcus Smart and scored the first seven points, kick-starting a 26-4 run to open the game.

The Celtics defense proved to be immense, holding the visitors to just 42 points with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Eleven first-quarter points also set a new record for the Heat's worst offensive first quarter in any playoff game in their history.

After only scoring 10 points in Game 3, Tatum responded in fine fashion, racking up a team-high 31 points on eight-of-16 shooting, hitting 14-of-16 free throws, while adding eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Speaking later, Tatum highlighted the confidence he has in his ability, despite how dark things can get immediately following a painful loss.

"Right after it's tough," he said. "You're frustrated with how you played, knowing how important this time of year is, and feeling like you let your team-mates down.

"But I think I do a really good job of sleeping it off – regardless of if I have 10 points or 46 points – the next day is the next day, and whatever happened, happened.

"Obviously I was ready to get back to playing, but I didn't doubt myself – I know how to play basketball.

"Regardless of how many points I score, [it's about] just trying to come out and help us get a win. That's most important."

With the series now tied at 2-2, Tatum called it "a new series", but he stressed his side need to bring the same intensity after a win, as opposed to just after crushing losses.

"It's 2-2 – it's kind of like a new series, a best-of-three," Tatum said.

"Human nature plays a part in [the swings in the series]. When you win a game, you can relax a little bit, but obviously when we lose a game, we feel like the next game is do-or-die, and then we come out and play how we did.

"We need to have that mindset going into Game 5 – it is a must-win game – and tonight was essentially something like that. Everybody knew it, we could all feel it, and I think it showed with the way we came out."

When asked if he enjoyed sitting out the fourth quarter after clocking 117 minutes across the first three games of the series, Tatum said: "It was extremely nice – especially because we were winning."

Celtics coach Ime Udoka made sure to highlight the efforts of White after he finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.

"He checks so many boxes for us, it's not only things that show up on the stat sheet," Udoka said.

"He's the guy that moves the ball very well, defends extremely well, multiple positions… I couldn't be more happy with him being here, and what he brings to this team."

Udoka touched on what it will take to come out on top in this series, echoing Tatum's sentiments about bringing the same intensity after a win.

"Our mindset was right coming out, we came out with the right physicality and focus," he said. "We've just got to muster that same energy when we're coming off a win, as well as a loss.

"It wasn't our best offensive night, but defensively, obviously we were elite tonight, for the most part.

"We've got room to grow still, that's the thing with us, and we can always rely on our defense. We've won several games doing that this year when our shots aren't falling.

"To hold them in the 30s for basically three quarters, it's high-level defense.

"We can do that even if our shots are not falling, it's mainly about taking care of the ball, not letting them get anything easy, and kind of wearing on them mentally."

After Game 5 in Miami, Game 6 will head back to Boston, with a potential Game 7 to be played in Miami, if required.

The Boston Celtics smothered the Miami Heat all night on the way to a 102-82 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

With the win, the Celtics evened the series at 2-2, and are still yet to lose back-to-back games this postseason. 

It all started on the defensive end for Boston, playing in front of their raucous home fans, as the Heat missed their first 14 field goal attempts.

The Celtics led 29-11 at quarter time – after leading 26-4 at one stage – marking the fewest first-quarter points ever scored by a Heat team in the playoffs. They shot three-for-20 from the field.

Victor Oladipo tried to ignite the Heat off the bench, scoring 18 of their first 28 points, but it was a historically bad showing from Miami's starting line-up, made even worse by the fact Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro was out injured.

With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Heat trailed 73-42, leading to their starters getting benched for the final frame. Their five starters combined to score 18 points and shoot seven-for-38 (18 per cent) from the field.

For Boston, Jayson Tatum was terrific, scoring 24 of his 31 points in the first half, finishing up with shooting figures of eight-of-16 from the field and 14-of-16 from the free throw line.

The big-man combination of Al Horford and Robert Williams III was also game-changing, as the duo combined for 22 rebounds and six blocks, while Derrick White also shined in his first game since becoming a father.

White missed Game 3 for the birth of his child, and after scoring no more than nine points since Game 4 of the Celtics series against the Milwaukee Bucks, he had 10 points in the first quarter as he started in the place of the injured Marcus Smart.

He went on to finish with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot.

Game 5 will head back to Miami with plenty on the line. Throughout NBA history, when a series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 82 per cent of the time – although the Celtics bucked that trend last round.

The Miami Heat warded off a gritty fightback from the Boston Celtics to win 109-103 on Saturday, reclaiming home-court advantage and taking out Game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics were down by 26 points in the first half and clawed their way back to make it a one-possession game down the stretch, but clutch baskets from Max Strus and Bam Adebayo were able to halt momentum.

Erik Spoelstra's side eventually saw the game out from the free-throw line.

With Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro off injured in the second half, Adebayo finished with 31 points on 15-of-22 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals in a big performance.

Jaylen Brown led the late charge for the Celtics, scoring a game-high 40 points off 14-of-20 shooting from the floor, but turnovers were critical as the team failed to take care of the ball.

Brown was responsible for seven of his own while Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart combined for 10 with the Celtics committing 23 turnovers.

Boston shot 37.5 per cent from three-point range but following a 39-14 first quarter, were facing an uphill battle.

The Heat scored 33 points off those turnovers in contrast to Boston's nine points, with double-digit margins for points in the paint (48-34) and bench points (26-16).

Butler came up with eight points and three rebounds as well as two assists and steals, but knee inflammation saw him miss the second half. 

Kyle Lowry's return to the floor was pivotal for the Heat, however, finishing with 11 points, six assists and four steals.

Jimmy Butler said the Boston Celtics "whipped our tail on our home floor" in their 127-102 beatdown of the Miami Heat in Game 2.

The return of Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart from a foot injury ignited the Celtics on the offensive end just as much as defensively, with the team hitting a red-hot 20-of-40 from three-point range.

Boston's five that played at least 30 minutes – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Grant Williams, Al Horford and Smart – shot 17-of-29 from long-range, and combined for 23 assists, which was two more than Miami had as a team.

Speaking to post-game media, Butler said the Celtics "tried to embarrass us", but pointed out that they were always going to be facing an uphill battle against such an outlier shooting performance.

"You do have to move on, but I don't like to move on from this. It has to hurt," he said.

"They tried to embarrass us – they did embarrass us. I think we got to realise that, or use it as fuel, but realise that the game can get out of hand when you're playing against a really good team like them that can score the ball and get stops.

"They made shots that they missed last game. That's just what it is.

"It's going to be hard to beat anybody when they shoot 50 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three. They were the more physical team overall, and they got one on the road.

"Overall, we just have to be better. We've got a tough job to do to go over there and win, but if they did it, we can do it as well."

He added: "I look at it as 'it can't get too much worse'. They whipped our tail on our home floor.

"I guess if they do it on their home floor it's supposed to happen, but I don't see us doing that again. 

"The first half has been brutal for us in both of these games, we just got to come out and play harder from the jump and be ready, because they be throwing some haymakers in the first half."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he did not feel like his side played poorly – but that it felt like the Celtics wanted revenge for Game 1.

"You definitely have to credit Boston," he said. "It's not just that they came in with great urgency and physicality – they did have that, for sure – they also played well. They played really well on both ends.

"We know what they're capable of defensively – they've done this to some very good offenses. I'm sure they were not happy with us putting up 118 in Game 1, and they came out very disruptive. 

"They got us out of our normal rhythm and flow, and the shot-making on the other end was very tough to overcome.

"You get to this point – in the Conference Finals – you just have very good teams. Teams without many weaknesses, it's great competition.

"This only counts as one, and that's what the experiences players and staff in the locker room understand. We don't like it, but they played extremely well."

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