Jayson Tatum leads Celtics past Raptors and into Eastern Conference finals
It took every bit of seven games, but Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics are headed to the Eastern Conference finals.
And they dethroned the NBA champions to get there.
Marcus Smart scored 16 points and Kemba Walker added 14 for third-seeded Boston. The Celtics will face the fifth-seeded Miami Heat in the East finals.
Given a chance to make history, the Clippers instead gave life to the idea they might repeat it with a 111-105 loss to the Nuggets on Friday night.
“If you want to achieve something great, if you want to win, it’s not going to be easy,” Tatum said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Fred VanVleet scored 20 points for Toronto, which got 16 from Kyle Lowry, 14 from Serge Ibaka, 13 from Pascal Siakam and 11 from Norman Powell. The Raptors were bidding to become the seventh franchise in NBA history to win four consecutive Game 7s.
Boston scored the first seven points of the fourth, taking an eight-point lead. The Celtics never trailed in the final quarter, though it was close all the way to the end.
“We should definitely be hardened,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We should definitely have a lot more in our toolbox to go back to. But we also have to get ready for a different, more unique team now in Miami.”
Powell had a chance to tie it on a drive with just under a minute left, his layup erased by Smart with a block that preserved an 89-87 lead. Lowry fouled out on the next possession, a call the Raptors argued and challenged to no avail. Grant Williams missed both free throws, but Powell fouled Tatum going for the rebound.
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Tatum made one of two, the lead was three and all Boston needed was one more stop.
The Celtics got just that; VanVleet was well short on a three-point try, Walker sealed it with free throws with 7.9 seconds left, and Toronto’s reign was about to end.
“Man, it was a tough game to lose,” an emotional Lowry said. “But they won. Tip your hats to them. They have a chance to go on and play against Miami and get to the championship.”
It was exactly one year ago Friday when four Celtics — Walker, Smart, Brown and Tatum — were part of the USA Basketball team in China that fell apart in the fourth quarter of a Basketball World Cup quarterfinal against France, a loss that kept the Americans out of the Final Four of that tournament.
Not this time. Not this year.
Next week, there will be four NBA teams left standing. The Celtics will be one of them.
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