MIAMI—The Boston Celtics were a tenth of a second away from elimination. The Miami Heat were a tenth of a second from the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
Derrick White owned that final moment.
White scored on a putback as time expired and the Boston Celtics moved to the brink of the greatest comeback in NBA playoffs history, holding off the Miami Heat, 104-103, on Saturday night to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Derrick White, like a flash of lightning, just came out of nowhere and saved the day, man,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said. “An incredible play.”
White knew it was good. Referees reviewed it, but it didn’t take long to give the official word.
Elation for Boston. Devastation for Miami.
“Ball came to me,” White said. “I made the shot.”
Perhaps Boston will call it The Shot.
White became the second player in NBA history to hit a buzzer-beater with his team trailing and facing elimination—Michael Jordan’s “The Shot” for Chicago against Cleveland in 1989 being the other.
“I was just happy,” White said. “Season was on the line. We don’t want to go home.”
Jayson Tatum scored 31 points, Brown scored 26 and Marcus Smart added 21 for the Celtics, who became only the fourth NBA team to erase a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series and force a deciding game.
The others in that club—the 1951 New York Knicks in the NBA Finals, the 1994 Denver Nuggets in the second round and the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers in the first round—all lost Game 7, all on the road.
Boston, however, is going home for its shot at history. Game 7 is Monday night on the Celtics’ floor, a matchup that’ll decide who meets the Western Conference champion Denver Nuggets in a title series that will start Thursday.
“It’s a seven-game series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “There’s nothing better than Game 7s.”
Jimmy Butler made three free throws with 3.0 seconds left—the foul was originally called with 2.1 seconds left; referees put 0.9 seconds back on after reviewing the play to see if it was a three-point try that Al Horford fouled him on—for a one-point Heat lead. It capped a Miami rally from 10 points down with less than fourth minutes remaining.
The Celtics had White inbound the ball on the game’s final possession, and he passed to Smart—who missed a three-pointer. But White sprinted from the inbound spot to the rim, the ball fell into his hands and he got the lay-in away just before time ran out to extend Boston’s season.
There had been other buzzer-beaters from players whose teams were facing an elimination game, but before Saturday, only Jordan’s came with his team trailing.
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was asked what went through his mind at that moment.
“Nothing,” Mazzulla said. “Game 7.”
Butler scored 24 points and Caleb Martin had 21 for the Heat, who are trying to pull off their own improbable trek to the title series by being only the second No. 8 seed to make the NBA Finals. They’ve now lost as many games this week—three—as they had in their first 14 playoff games this spring combined on the way to ousting No. 1 Milwaukee, then No. 5 New York and taking what was supposed to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the second-seeded Celtics.
“We’ve got to go on the road and do something special,” Butler said. “But we’ve got a special group.”
The Celtics have now won five of their last six East finals games in Miami—a stretch that includes a Game 7 over the Heat last season to reach the NBA Finals.
That one, obviously, ended the Heat season. At least this time, Miami still has a chance.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get this done, but we’re going to go out there and get it done,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s what the next 48 hours is about. There’s been nothing easy about this season for our group, and so we just have to do it the hard way.”
The Heat are the 151st team to grab a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven. All 150 of the previous clubs finished the job. But the Celtics have made very clear that they have other ideas, and Mazzulla listed a lot of reasons why.
“Faith. Love. Togetherness. Physicality. Belief. Hope.” Mazzulla said. “All those things combined. It starts with the locker room. Those guys had a choice to make and they chose to believe in each other.”
Image credits: AR