It went the distance but in the end, Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics are headed to the Eastern Conference finals after they dethroned NBA champions Toronto Raptors in thrilling fashion.
The Raptors were bidding to become the seventh franchise in NBA history to win four consecutive Game 7′s but fell short as their reign ended.
Tatum scored 29 points, Jaylen Brown added 21 and the Celtics went past the Raptors 92-87 in the early hours of Saturday in Game 7 of the East semifinal series.
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, that series starting Tuesday night.
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 game saw the lead exchanged three times in three quarters as the Raptors led, then trailed before winning the third quarter to go within a single point of the Celtics heading into the fourth period.
Boston scored the first seven points of the fourth, taking an eight-point 79-71 lead. The Celtics never trailed in the final quarter, though it was close all the way to the end.
Toronto had 18 turnovers that Boston turned into 31 points; the Celtics shot 9-for-38 from 3-point range and 13-for-23 from the line.
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.
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 3-point try, Walker sealed it with free throws with 7.9 seconds left, and Toronto’s reign was about to end.
Raptors’ loss means this will be the first time neither the No. 1 nor No. 2 seed in the East will make the conference finals since the NBA went to the 16-team playoff format in 1984; this one will feature No. 3 Boston and No. 5 Miami.
The last time something like this happened in the East was 1969, when No. 4 Boston beat No. 3 New York in what was then the Eastern Division finals.
The Celtics boast a 2-1 head-to-head against Miami in the regular season, winning 112-93 on 4 December in Boston and 109-101 at Miami on 28 January. The Heat won the lone bubble matchup between the clubs, prevailing 112-106 on 4 August.