In a Conference Finals as unpredictable, mind-boggling, painful, and gritty as any you’ll ever watch, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics split their time between throwing the weeds and bouncing on the ropes. And when Miami lost Game 6 due to a severe buzzer decline, it felt like it would need something close to a miracle to prevail in Game 7 and avoid a historically unprecedented loss against a team it beat three times in a row.
Caleb Martin may not be a miracle, but his 7 game for the ages, which helped Miami to a stunning 103-84 win, on top of phenomenal production and efficiency over a week of high-impact competition, was certainly a basketball phenomenon.
In a 45-minute peak, Martin scored 26 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and went 11-for-16 from the floor. The numbers alone are impressive, but the context is great. Martin averaged a career high 9.6 points per game this season. He did not play again in Game 7 of last General Conference Finals, off the bench for the first time in that full round of the playoffs. Now, as someone who has only started one game for the Heat since the All-Star break before game six, he is He was about to be voted MVP.
what he did in it this Game 7 will be the stuff of legend. At the biggest stage of his career, in a hostile environment that loudly distorted his eardrums 10 minutes before the start of his career, Martin outplayed Boston’s All-NBA forwards. There are now a top 15 players in this league who would never do what he did for most of this series, let alone on Monday night. According to Second Spectrum, he finished with a 72.7 effective field goal percentage against Boston, the highest postseason innings of any player who took at least 75 shots. In the series finale, at least half of his buckets were timed, defiant, and against elite defenders who took what he wanted to do in the beginning.
However, Martin stopped running. It has closed off neighborhoods. He drilled steps back late in the shot hour. He missed four of his first five shots, the first being a one-handed rebound that came after he beat Jaylen Brown to the ball outside the box. Consistency and resilience exemplified by Martin, a frequent running back cutter that sucked air from TD Garden. “Caleb has definitely made a name for himself,” said Bam Adebayo. Look at this paint evasion against basically perfect one-on-one defense by Al Horford:
Or that fundamental shift that had shades of Kobe Bryant. Martin got Derek White up in the air, put the ball to the ground, curled it away with a help from Rob Williams, then slashed the tires that were starting to carry momentum towards Boston:
“It just shows you what I’m capable of,” said Martin. And I just want to stay locked in. I knew how they were going to guard me throughout the series, and I just wanted to [to] Take advantage of that.”
To say Martin outperformed expectations would be a slight understatement. His shooting quantity in this series was +19.4, which is higher than any other player in these playoffs for a single series (at least 75 shots). That number is an absolute beast, but it doesn’t fully illustrate how consistent and tough Martin is in a game that, barring the actual finals, couldn’t have higher stakes.
“It was amazing,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said afterward. “Everything the competitor you talk about with Jimmy or Bam or whatever. Caleb is a competitor. You’ll be hitting the higher stakes, and the further you work, the more competitors will reveal themselves. Game 7s, or make it to the conference finals, it’s not for everyone in This association. Otherwise more players, more teams do it. You have to be wired a little differently, and Caleb is. He’s pure. He’s competitive on both ends. He puts everything out there for everyone to see.”
More than that, Martin slid right into a bigger part. He looked like a better two-way version of what an injured Tyler Hero would have been (and made up for him great).
“He has accepted different roles,” Spo continued. “But we needed him to be more of a player. With Tyler and Vic [Oladipo] Outside, we needed more attack. But yeah, he has a lot of respect in the locker room just because it’s so hard to compete. It’s like his last breath in every possession, and I love the man for that.”
Martin didn’t win Game 7 himself, of course. The Heat hit 50 percent of their 3s (14-for-28) against a Celtics offense that missed their 11 attempts and finished 9-for-42 behind the arc (which tied for second-least accurate outing of the season). Boston’s 84 points was also a low on the season.
In the end, the Celtics couldn’t get over their poor shooting, or a sprained ankle that Jason Tatum sustained on the first play of the game. They were just under 15 in almost seven minutes by Malcolm Brogdon, who said he would consider off-season surgery to repair a partially torn tendon in his elbow that had caused pain every time he hit the ball in this series.
Tatum’s ankle kept him from moving as well as he could have. His 14 points on 13 shots help tell this story, but what’s even more noticeable is just how tight he moved on defense, unable to hold on to Heat shooters who freed themselves up for an open look.
“It’s tough because it kind of affected me the rest of the night,” Tatum said after the game. “It swelled up and it was frustrating because I was kind of like a shell of myself. It was hard to move. Just frustrating. Especially since it happens on the first play.”
Meanwhile, Butler scored a game-high 28 points, looking more comfortable than he had in Game 6, finding his positions, catching favorite tackles, and creating space. On the other end, Miami’s defense rallied. The Heat darted in and out of the fairways, no offense, swarmed the paint, squeezed the ball into the perimeter, and came back into the transition.
They made life difficult for Brown, who committed eight of Boston’s 15 turnovers and was fouled by Duncan Robinson. Brown wasted eight seconds in total and finished 8-for-23 from the floor, capping off a hugely disappointing run for him, on the cusp of a potential Supermax contract extension. “My team turned to me to make the plays and I won the play,” Brown said when asked about how Tatum’s ankle affected the game. “It failed. It’s rough. I give credit to Miami, however [I did] Just an awful job.”
This series was a perfect storm for the eighth-ranked heat. Brilliantly shooting from behind the three-point line, they overwhelmed Boston with their own territory, contended for the Cup, and fought for every loose ball. They won ugly and glamorous. And the unexpected face of their success was, in many ways, Martin. Heading to Denver for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, the Heat may desperately need him to be the difference-maker again. It’s a daunting task, on a quick turnaround, against a defense that will likely ramp up its coverage on it as best it can.
“To the untrained eye, he just looks like a jerk guy who was in the G league, and he started with Charlotte and now he’s here,” Butler said. “We started with a two-way contract. That’s what it’s like for all of you. For us, he’s a player from hell, defender hell, playmaker, shot-maker, all of the above.”
And if Martin can be this extraordinary for another two weeks, Miami may shock the world… again.
“Alcohol enthusiast. Twitter ninja. Tv lover. Falls down a lot. Hipster-friendly coffee geek.”