Twice in this Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Miami, I didn’t think the Heat would or could win another game.
The first time came after Game 2, a Celtics blowout victory. The second was after Game 5, another easy Celtics road victory in which the Heat looked battered and broken.
Not that I discounted the Heat’s resolve, but I did not fully appreciate their determination against this adversity.
So while thinking, along with Draymond Green and most everybody else except the Heat, there was no way Miami would win Game 6, that’s exactly what happened.
Behind Butler’s brilliant and necessary 47 points, Miami forced a Game 7 with a 111-103 victory on Friday, setting up Sunday’s series finale (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
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And while recognizing how talented the Celtics are, I underestimated how inconsistent they are for a 51-win team that swept the Brooklyn Nets and dispatched the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks in the first two rounds.
This is one of the strangest series I have covered — the blowouts, wild point swings from game to game, the road team winning four of the six games. Four of the games weren’t really close, and the two that were close were decided before the final two possessions.
I have not covered such an uneven even 3-3 series.
Below, USA TODAY’s NBA staffers make their Game 7 predictions. But anybody’s guess is good here.
For Boston to get to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, it needs to win a third road game — which would be unusual in normal circumstances, but given the construct of this series, it might not be weird at all.
For Miami to reach the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons, it needs to win two consecutive games for the first time in the series. Not much has transpired indicating that will happen, but there hasn’t been much rhyme or reason to the matchup.
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There are players who could/should have an impact.
For the Heat:
Butler. Not sure the Heat can count on another 40-spot from Butler, but they need a game where he’s scoring, passing, rebounding and defending.
Kyle Lowry, who is battling a bad hamstring injury and missed the first two games against the Celtics, had his best of the series in Game 6. His veteran presence and championship experience is required.
The Heat are better when Bam Adebayo is aggressive offensively, and if Tyler Herro, who has missed the past three games with a strained left groin, can play, the Heat will have one of the best scorers on the court.
Erik Spoelstra possesses an admirable and pathological belief in his team.
"I just know how our guys are wired," Spoelstra said. "Our guys love competition. They love the challenge. We have deep respect for our opponent. This is a very good team that we're playing against.
"What you hope is that brings out the best in you and a different level. Over the course of a long series like this, you're going to get pushed, uncomfortably so. Sometimes you're going to lose some battles along the way. We've had some very tough times during this series. But we have guys that will just pick themselves up and get onto the next fight."
For the Celtics:
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown need all-around performances with limited turnovers.
Al Horford and Robert Williams don’t generate massive statistics, but they are integral to what the Celtics do offensively and defensively.
Marcus Smart’s defense is a given, and a decent offensive outputs elevates Boston’s chances.
Derrick White has been really good off the bench in the past two games as the Celtics find ways to unlock his scoring.
Of course, the other team has something to say about that, especially the way both teams play defense.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka has belief in his team, too.
"We've been a resilient group, overcome a lot of things this year, and just in general within the series and the playoffs, nothing has been easy," he said. "That’s the way this season has gone. It’s almost like we need to take the harder route at times."
My editor asked if Miami has a shot to win Game 7. I’d be foolish at this point to think otherwise.
And yet, who will be surprised at a Celtics blowout victory?
Let the strangeness continue.
Matt Eppers: Celtics. Even with some of their injuries, the Celtics still have more reliable scoring than the Heat, and they've won big road games during these playoffs. Boston in seven was my pick before the series, so there's no reason to change now.
Larry Starks: Heat. I originally picked the Heat to win the series in six games. OK, so I’ll be one game off. When the Celtics are on, they clearly have a lot of advantages. But there’s something about this Miami team that has me believing it will actually pull this thing out.
Zillgitt: Heat. Why not at this point?
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Heat vs. Celtics: Who wins Game 7 of Eastern finals is anyone's guess