Sunday, May 28, 2023

Celtics 104, Heat 103: Derrick White's buzzer-beating putback forces Game 7 [series tied, 3-3]

The Celtics beat the Miami Heat 104-103 Saturday night to even the Eastern Conference Finals, 3-3, and avoid elimination once again.

Derrick White scored on a putback with one-tenth of a second left before time expired to force a do-or-die Game 7, as the C's are on the brink of pulling off the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history.
"Derrick White, like a flash of lightning, just came out of nowhere and saved the day, man," Jaylen Brown said in his postgame presser. "An incredible play."
With 3.0 seconds left to play, White inbounded the ball to Marcus Smart, who immediately took a turnaround 3-point attempt that went in and out, while White crashed the boards at the exact moment it landed in his hands to put it back up as the final buzzer sounded.
"Ball came to me," White said during his postgame comments. "I made the shot."
The veteran guard -- who was coming off a 24-point performance to lead all scorers in the Celtics Game 6 win, knew it was good, and the referees deemed that White did indeed get it off in time before they reviewed it and gave the official word.
"I was just happy," said White, who recorded 11 points, six assists and three blocks. "Season was on the line. We don't want to go home."
Jayson Tatum finished with 31 points on 8-of-22 from the field and didn't hit a 3-pointer in eight tries, but also had 11 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. Jaylen Brown netted 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Smart added 21 points on 4-of-11 from 3-point territory for Boston, as they get another opportunity to not only extend their season but head to NBA Finals for the second straight year.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler struggled on 5-of-21 from the floor for 24 points, to go along with 11 rebounds and eight assists, Caleb Martin notched 21 points, 15 rebounds and Gabe Vincent returned from his one-game absence (ankle sprain) to chip in 15 points for the Heat, who have now blown a 3-0 best-of-7 series lead.

The Celtics led for most of the night and by as many as 13 points to the Heat's 3-point margin as their largest. Tatum scored 25 points in the first half and Boston had 57-53 advantage at the break -- despite Miami connecting on only 38.3% of their shot attempts, but they were 9-of-15 from deep.

Boston was ahead 79-72 heading into the final frame after a poor shooting display from both teams in the third quarter. The Heat used a 15-3 spurt to start the fourth and took their first lead (83-82) since the first period and 7:57 left to play. The C's responded with an 18-5 run of their own to go ahead by 10 (98-88).

Miami had one more rally left in what might be their last game at Kaseya Center this season, as Butler scored 11 of the home team's next 15 points in the final 3:51, while the Celtics managed to only record four in the span.

Butler knocked down eight free throws during that late run, including three straight after getting fouled by Horford with 3.0 seconds left on the game clock while attempting a 3-pointer in the right corner -- to put the Heat back in front 103-102 -- setting up the last play of the game.
"It's a seven-game series," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to reporters. "There's nothing better than Game 7s."
The Celtics become just the fourth team to force a Game 7 in league history after erasing a 3-0 deficit. The others on that list -- 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 and on the road.

Boston has a 27-9 overall record in Game 7s and they'll look to be the first team to come back from being down 3-0 to force a deciding game at home -- where they are 22-5 all-time in Game 7s.

However, the Celtics are also seeking to become the first team ever to win a best-of-7 series after trailing 3-0 in 75 years of the NBA, something this current roster has been preaching "one game at a time" since winning Game 4 in Miami.
"Faith. Love. Togetherness. Physicality. Belief. Hope." C's head coach Joe 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."
Game 7 is scheduled for Memorial Day from TD Garden at 8:30 ET on TNT

Game Notes:

The Celtics were 43.6% from the field, including 7-of-35 (20%) from behind the arc, while Miami was 35.5% from the floor and 14-of-30 (46.7%) from long distance. Both teams grabbed 47 rebounds each, but the C's outscored the home team 42-32 in the paint. Boston dished out 18 assists (12 turnovers) on 34 baskets and the Heat had 22 dimes (five turnovers) on 32 made shots.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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