MIAMI — The Boston Celtics are on the verge of something unprecedented in the NBA, a feat rare in the history of major American pro sports.
Behind a stunning layup by Derrick White before the buzzer sounded, the Boston Celtics won Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, 104-103, over the Miami Heat.
The Celtics came back to tie this series at 3-3 after losing the first three games and could become the first team in NBA history to win a playoff series after trailing 3-0.
One hundred and fifty tried and failed.
“Faith, love, togetherness, physicality, belief, hope, all those things combined,” said Boston coach Joe Mazzulla when asked how the Celtics got to this point. “But it starts in the locker room. Those people had a choice and they chose to believe in each other.”
Only five teams in the NHL and MLB, including in 2004, when the Red Sox did it to the Yankees to get to the World Series, won Game 7 after trailing by three in a series.
Historically, Miami hasn’t been the Celtics’ main rival (hello there, Lakers), but the Heat and Boston have met three times in the last four seasons in the conference finals. And for the second year in a row, the Celtics-Heat conference finals are headed to Game 7.
“This is the way it’s been this season,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team is still trying to become just the second team to reach the finals as a No. 8 seeds. “It’s been a hell of a series. At this point right now, I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to go up there and do it. And that’s what the next 48 hours are about.”
No matter what happens in Game 7, which is at 8:30 Monday night at TD Garden, nobody on either side will forget this series.
Jimmy Butler made three foul shots with three seconds remaining to give the Heat a 103-102 lead. Marcus Smart missed a 3-pointer after a timeout, but White, who was the inbounder on the play, spun down the left side of the court as Smart’s shot was airborne, rebounded after hitting the rim and put it back in 0.1 seconds. the rest — a play that withstood video review by the officials.
“It all happened so fast – I can’t really tell,” Jaylen Brown said. “I knew Smart shot it, and I thought it was good. Then Derrick White, like lightning, just came out and saved the day, man. It was just an unbelievable play.”
“There was nothing good to do standing in the corner there, whether he did it or not, so I just dropped the glass, and he came right at me,” White said. “It’s a little crazy. My phone exploded.”
Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 31 points and 12 rebounds, including 25 points in the first half. Brown added 26 points and 10 boards, and Smart was good for the second straight game with 21 points.
White, inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4, scored 11. The Celtics haven’t lost since White joined the other starters.
Boston is playing without reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, who missed the game with a right forearm strain.
Butler had one of the worst shooting games he’s ever had — regular season or playoffs — missing 16 of 21 shots. But he scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, including the Heat’s final 10 points in the final 2:04 of the game. Miami down 10 with 3:51 left.
Al Horford fouled Butler in the corner with 3.0 on the clock, and while Butler calmly sank all three foul shots, he appeared to have found the sweetest of redemptions, as he missed an open-open 3 near the end of Game 7 in last year’s Eastern finals against the Celtics who could have won that game.
Instead, it was the bitterest defeat.
“Basketball at its finest,” Butler said. “We will try together until we pass it.”
Caleb Martin continued his historic conference finals streak with 21 points and 15 boards. In the first start of the series — Spoelstra replaced Martin for Kevin Love — Martin entered the game averaging 17.6 points off the bench in this series for the fifth-highest average by a reserve in conference finals history.
Bam Adebayo continued to struggle on offense, shooting 4 of 16 for 11 points. The Heat are an amazing 33-of-93 shooting as a team, in a home game. The Celtics couldn’t escape the game, however, in part because they went 7 of 35 from 3-point range. Tatum and Brown were 0 of 12 from deep.
Boston joins the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers, the 1994 Denver Nuggets and the 1951 New York Knicks as the only NBA teams to fall 3-0 and even force a Game 7. Obviously, all teams lose, but they all played Game 7 on the road.
The Celtics, who are now 5-0 in elimination games this postseason, have played more Game 7s (so far) than any other franchise, and in the Tatum-Brown era, they are 5-1 in the Game 7 since 2018.
And they are at home. With the opportunity to write a piece of American history.
“It doesn’t get much worse than being down 0-3,” Brown said. “We feel like we’ve been to hell and back. We feel like we can handle any adversity thrown at us during the game or during the season or in the postseason. It’s all for nothing if we don’t come out and give it our all on our home floor on Monday night.”
A crazy ending to Game 6
Very stressful, urgent, desperate game. The Celtics led by double digits in each half. The Heat came back every time, even shooting 35.5 percent from the field for the game. The action felt like a Game 7, with both teams knowing their entire seasons could be on the line.
For the Celtics, it really is their season. And they chose the most interesting way to expand it. All double-digit leads disappeared late in the fourth quarter.
After Mazzulla’s replay review gave Butler a chance to put Miami ahead, not just tie the game, White put that Smart miss back at the buzzer to force a Game 7.
That ending couldn’t have been crazier. — king
White saved the Celtics
The Celtics were desperately looking for a crowning win to save their season, and somehow White saved them. White always found a way to be in the right place at the right time while making the play faster than anyone else could.
There’s usually suspense when a put-back goes up before the buzzer, but you know right away that White will put it away in time. He just stepped into every crevice of the game to make timely plays and literally saved the Celtics season from the dead. — Weiss
Not enough incredible heat returns
Miami really can move on to the NBA Finals right now. Let’s see if the way they played in the last three minutes will hold them back heading into Game 7.
Up until that point, though, Butler and Adebayo were pretty poor. They shot a combined 9 of 37 from the field. Butler appears tentative, with a flat shot, and Adebayo catches the ball too far from the rim to get around Al Horford.
Shooting 33 of 93 from the field, at home, in an elimination game, is amazing. But it happened, and now the Heat have to stop this avalanche coming from above, on the road. — Vardon
Highlights of the game
(Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)