The Boston Celtics won Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat with a last-second putback by Derrick White, sending the series to Game 7. The win puts the Celtics one game away from becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. The game was similar to Game 7 of the same matchup on the same court one year earlier, with Boston controlling the proceedings and then giving up their lead. Despite a poor shooting night for the Celtics, they managed to hold on for the win after a long review of a foul call.
The Miami Heat were less than a second away from the NBA Finals. But with a precious two tenths of a second remaining, Derrick White — who had served as the inbounds passer on the final possession for the Boston Celtics — managed to release a putback of a Marcus Smart missed jumper that fell through the net just as the buzzer sounded, giving the Celtics a heart-stopping 104-103 victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The win sends this series back to Boston for Game 7 on Memorial Day night and moves the Celtics one win away from becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit.
“Derrick White, like a flash of lightning, just came out of nowhere and saved the day, man,” teammate Jaylen Brown said. “It was just an incredible play.”
It was an incredible series of moments — all of which were eerily similar to the way Game 7 of this same matchup on this same court played out almost exactly one year earlier.
Like in that game, Boston controlled the proceedings throughout. And, like in that game, the Celtics had a sizable lead — nine points, to be exact — when Jayson Tatum hit a couple free throws to make it 100-91 with 3 minutes, 4 seconds to go.
And, like in that game, Boston gave it all back.
“I don’t know if poise is a great word to use with those last four minutes,” White would say later with a smile, “but we found a way to win.”
But only just. On a night when the Celtics both made fewer 3s (7) and shot a worse percentage (20 percent) than they had in any regular season or playoff game this season, it had also been a truly horrendous night for Butler. But then he scored the final 10 points of the game for the Heat over a two-minute stretch: hitting a 3-pointer, followed by going 1-for-2 at the line, converting an and-one bucket (plus the free throw) and then, with three seconds to go, drawing a foul on Al Horford in the corner on a 3-pointer, and then going to the line — after a long review — and knocking all three free throws down.
There was a long review because Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla chose to challenge the foul on Horford. But while the call wasn’t reversed, the challenge was crucial in another respect: it bought Boston time.
An extra nine-tenths of a second, to be exact.
Originally, referee Josh Tiven had called a foul with 2.1 seconds remaining. But while the officials would have reviewed whether the shot was a two-pointer or three-pointer, Mazzulla instead chose to challenge the foul call. That allowed the officials to review the play in its entirety, and they determined that Horford had indeed fouled Butler on a 3-point attempt.
It was a stunning turn of events, and one that will be talked about for years to come. But for now, the focus turns to Game 7, where the Celtics will try to make history and the Heat will try to avoid a repeat of last year’s disappointment.
Will Boston complete the comeback, or will Miami finally get over the hump and return to the NBA Finals? The world will be watching on Memorial Day night.