The Boston Celtics were out by a tenth of a second. The Miami Heat were a tenth of a second away from the NBA Finals.
Derrick White owned that last moment.
White scored as time expired and the Boston Celtics were on the verge of the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history, beating the Miami Heat 104-103 on Saturday night to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.
White knew it was good. The referees reviewed it, but it didn’t take long to give the official word.
Joy for Boston. Destruction for Miami.
“The ball came to me,” White said. “I took the shot.”
Perhaps Boston will call it The Shot.
White became the second player in NBA history to go down with his team and be eliminated. Michael Jordan’s “Shot” for Chicago against Cleveland in 1989.
“I was just happy,” White said. “The season was over. We don’t want to go home.”
Jayson Tatum had 31 points, Brown had 26 and Marcus Smart had 21 for the Celtics, who became the fourth NBA team to overturn a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series to force a tiebreaker. The others from 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 in 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 game that will decide who will face the Western Conference champion Denver Nuggets in the title series that begins Thursday.
“It’s a seven-game streak,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “There is nothing better than Game 7.”
Jimmy Butler made three free throws with 3.0 seconds left. After reviewing the play, the refs pushed back 0.9 seconds to see if Al Horford hit a 3-pointer on him for a one-point Heat lead. It beat Miami’s rally by 10 points with less than 4 minutes remaining.
The Celtics got possession of the ball in the white on the final possession of the game, and he threw a pass to Smart, who missed a 3-pointer. But White took a turn toward the rim, the ball fell into his hands, and he left the field just before time expired to extend Boston’s lead.
There have been other rumblings from players whose teams were facing an exit game, but before the week, only Jordan came to push his team back.
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was asked what was going through his mind at that moment.
Butler scored 24 points and Caleb Martin added 21 for the Heat, who are trying to extend their improbable run to a title run by becoming just the second No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals. They’ve now lost as many games this week — three — as they have in their first 14 playoff games this spring, combining to knock off No. 1 Milwaukee and then No. 5 New York en route to taking what was supposed to be an insurmountable upset. A 3-0 lead over the second-place Celtics.
“We’ve got to go down the road and do something special,” Butler said. “But we have a special group.”
The Celtics have now won five of their last six East Finals games in Miami, a stretch that includes last season’s Game 7 sweep of the Heat 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 do it, but we’re going to go out there and make it happen,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s what the next 48 hours are about. There is nothing easy for our group this season and we just have to do it the hard way.”
The Heat are the 151st team to take a 3-0 series lead in seven games. All previous 150 clubs completed the task. But the Celtics have made it very clear they have other ideas, and Mazzulla listed plenty of reasons why.
“Faith. love Unity. Physicality. Belief. Hope.” Mazulla said: “All those things combined. It starts in the locker room. Those guys had a choice, and they chose to believe in each other.”
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