A fascinating Eastern Conference finals ended in shocking fashion on Monday, as the Miami Heat crushed the Boston Celtics on the road in Game 7, 103-84 to earn a trip to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2020 and avoid being the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead.
After the game, as the Heat celebrated inside a rapidly-emptying TD Garden, Jimmy Butler was awarded the Eastern Conference finals MVP trophy, which he won by a narrow margin over Caleb Martin, five votes to four. So it goes when you're the star player; you shoulder the blame when the team loses and you get the accolades when the team wins, even if you don't always fully deserve either.
Butler was the Heat's statistical leader in this series in every major category besides rebounding. He averaged 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.6 steals per game, and had a signature moment in Game 2 when he helped drag them back from a large fourth-quarter deficit after his dust-up with Grant Williams.
But while his numbers look strong and he had a few big performances, this was not a mythical "Playoff Jimmy" series like we saw in the first round against the Milwaukee Bucks. He had forgettable outings in Games 3 through 5, was a disastrous 5-of-21 from the field in Game 6 and shot 42 percent from the field in the seven games.
Overall this series was about the Heat's supporting cast stepping up in spectacular fashion, rather than a one-man show from Butler. None did so better than Caleb Martin, who after this series may just deserve to be grouped into a new big three in Miami alongside Butler and Bam Adebayo instead.
While Martin grew into a solid role player with the Heat this season, no one could have predicted his star turn against the Celtics, where he was arguably the best player on the floor for large stretches of the matchup and time and again kept the Heat afloat when Butler was on the bench. When Martin was on the floor, the Heat had a plus-9.6 net rating; when he sat, they were at minus-4.2.
The Heat simply don't win this series if he doesn't play the best basketball of his life. He averaged 19.3 points and 6.4 rebounds, while shooting 60.2 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from 3-point land -- those shooting percentages are not typos -- and capped things off with a 26-point, 10-rebound effort in Game 7.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Martin's series was his consistency. It's one thing for role players to have one or even two great games, but he was awesome almost every single night. Once once, in Game 5, did he fail to score at least 15 points on 50 percent shooting.
"A ton of credit to the organization and getting me ready for these moments," Martin said. "I do a lot of prep with my coaches and my trainer to get me ready for these moments. It's super-high-level competition. You can't hide it. You figure out if you're built for these type of environments or not whenever you get into them. I just I feel like I've just been continuously prepping and getting ready for these moments, and when these moments come, I feel like I'm ready for them.
"I feel like I'm built for these type of moments."
Likewise, the Eastern Conference finals MVP trophy should have been built for him.