MIAMI — The Boston Celtics are on the verge of accomplishing something the NBA has never seen before, a rare feat in the history of major American pro sports.
Behind a stunning Derrick White put-back, the Boston Celtics took Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals 104-103 over the Miami Heat before the buzzer sounded.
After losing the first three games, the Celtics came back to tie the series 3-3 and become the first team in NBA history to win a playoff series after trailing 3-0.
One hundred and fifty have tried and failed.
“Trust, love, togetherness, physicality, hope, faith, it all came together,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said when asked how the Celtics made it this far. “But it starts in the locker room. Those guys had a choice, they chose to trust each other.
Only five teams in the NHL and MLB combined have won Game 7 after trailing by three in a series since 2004, when the Red Sox swept the Yankees to the World Series.
Historically, Miami isn’t the Celtics’ chief rival (hello there, Lakers), but the Heat and Boston have met three times in the last four seasons in the conference finals. For the second year in a row, the Celtics-Heat conference finals go to Game 7.
“That’s the way it’s been this season,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team is still trying to become just the second No. 8 seed to reach the finals. “It’s been a hell of a series. At this point, I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to go out there and do it. The next 48 hours are what it’s all about.
No matter what happens in Game 7 on Monday at TD Garden at 8:30 p.m., neither side will soon forget this series.
Jimmy Butler made three foul shots with three seconds left to give the Heat a 103-102 lead. Marcus Smart misses a 3-pointer. The rest is a play that bears video review by the officials.
“It all happened so fast — I can’t really tell,” Jaylen Brown said. “I knew Smart was going to shoot it, and I thought it was good. Then Derrick White, like lightning, came out of nowhere and saved the day, man. It was an incredible play.
“There’s no point in standing there in the corner whether he does it or not, so I was just smashing the glass and it got right to me,” White said. “This is going to be a little crazy. My phone is already blowing up.
Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 31 points and 12 rebounds, including 25 in the first half. Brown added 26 points and 10 boards, and Smart had a second straight game high with 21 points.
Inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4, White scored 11 runs. The Celtics haven’t lost since White teamed up with other starters.
Boston was playing without the NBA Sixth Player of the Year when he missed the game with a right forearm strain.
Butler had one of his worst shooting games ever — regular season or playoffs — missing 16 of his 21 shots. But he scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, including the Heat’s final 10 points over the final 2:04 of the game. Miami was down 10 with 3:51 left.
Al Horford fouled Butler with 3.0 on the clock, and it looked like he’d found some sweet redemption as Butler calmly sank all three foul shots, because he missed a wide-open 3 late in the game. Maybe a Game 7 win against the Celtics in last year’s Eastern Finals.
Rather, the bitterness of defeats.
“Basketball is great,” Butler said. “We’ll get the same test until we pass.”
Caleb Martin continued his historic conference finals streak with 21 points and 15 boards. Making his first start of the series — Spoelstra replaced Martin for Kevin Love — Martin averaged 17.6 points off the bench in the series, the fifth-highest average in conference finals history.
Bam Adebayo continued to struggle on offense, shooting 4 for 16 for 11 points. The Heat were 33-of-93 shooting as a team in home games. The Celtics were unable to run away from the game as 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, 1994 Denver Nuggets and 1951 New York Knicks. The NBA teams were down 3-0 to force an even Game 7. Obviously, all of those teams lost, but they all played in Game 7. Road.
The Celtics, who are 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’re 5-1 in Game 7s through 2018.
And they stay home. I had the opportunity to write a piece of American history.
“It’s no 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 that’s thrown at us during the game or during the season or in the postseason. If we don’t come out and give it our all on our home floor Monday night, it’s all for nothing.”
A crazy ending to Game 6
What a tense, rushed, desperate game. The Celtics led by double digits in each half. Even while shooting 35.5 percent from the field for the game each time, the Heat clawed their way back. The move felt like Game 7, and both teams knew the entire season could be on the line.
For the Celtics, their season really was. They chose a very interesting way to extend it. They lost all but double-digit leads late in the fourth quarter.
After Mazzulla’s layup gave Butler a chance to put Miami ahead, White put that smart miss back at the buzzer to force a Game 7.
That decision couldn’t have been crazier. — the king
White saves the Celtics
The Celtics were absolutely scrambling for a crown victory to save their season, and then somehow White saved them. White always finds a way to be in the right place at the right time while playing faster than anyone.
Most of the time it’s suspenseful when a put-back comes up just before the buzzer, but you know White is going to put it away in time. He sneaks into every crevice of the game to make timely plays, and he brought the Celtics season back from the dead. — Weiss
Incredible heat recovery is not enough
Miami can now go to the NBA Finals. Let’s see if the way they played in the last three minutes will carry them into Game 7.
Until then, Butler and Adebayo were very poor. They went 9 of 37 from the field. Butler looked tentative with a flat shot and Adebayo was holding the ball too far from the rim so he couldn’t get around Al Horford.
Shooting 33-of-93 from the field at home in an elimination game was astounding. But it happened, and now the heat is on the road, to stop this avalanche from the heights. – Worden
The highlight of the game
(Photo: Mike Ehrman/Getty Images)