The Boston Celtics are back in form. Having started the Eastern Conference Finals with a three-game losing streak to the Miami Heat, they racked up three consecutive victories, giving them a shot at becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 series loss. It only took one miracle – after losing the lead late in the fourth quarter, Derrick White dropped a missed three-pointer on the buzzer to take the 104-103 win and put himself on the brink of history.
It was initiated by Jayson Tatum Celts tonight, scoring 25 points in the first half to finish with a total of 31. Jaylen Brown added 26 of his own but struggled with fouls and a wrist injury, and Marcus Smart continued his rise in the Eastern Conference Finals with 21 points and 4 three-pointers. For Miami, the cast performed brilliantly, including 59 points from their vaunted cast of undrafted role players Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson. However, the stars did not show up. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo had their worst games of the postseason, scoring a combined 35 points on 9-of-37 from the field.
If you didn’t know anything else, you’d be able to see the significance of this game from the first quarter play on the court. This was arguably the most energetic episode of basketball in the series to date, with both teams flying up and down the court and blocking defenses. The quarter proceeded with surprisingly few stoppages, maintaining a pleasant fast pace as both teams played at a high level. By one, it was the Celtics who sat on top, leading 34-29.
Brown had an electrifying start to the game, shooting 5-of-6 from the field in the first quarter, but shortly after the second he fouled Kyle Lowry under the basket and appeared to favor his left wrist. Brown was undergoing treatment for this wrist before the game, but remained in the game after the injury appeared to have worsened. He had an issue with Lowry as he lined up for free throws, leading to a minor brawl, but no fouls were awarded. He only scored one point in the second quarter – a free throw – after being injured.
The Heat’s three-point shooting returned to early series levels, but the Celtics found their way to the free throw line with more assertiveness. They put themselves a bonus with a whopping nine minutes left in the quarter, including an 11 FTA from Tatum in the first half. Boston’s lead stretched into double figures, led by Tatum, who cooked from mid and set the Miami defenders on fire with dribbling. Miami’s late quarter round closed the gap, but the Celtics held on to a four-point lead at halftime, 57–53.
Note: With just over three minutes left in the first half, Butler and Adebayo tangled under the basket, and Adebayo landed his full weight on Butler’s knee. Butler was slow to his feet after the game, but stayed in the game and ended the first half for Miami. Additionally, Robert Williams III left the game for the dressing room late in the quarter, apparently injuring his left hand, but returned later in the third and suffered no ill effects.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra burned his coach’s challenge early in the third quarter after an action in which Brown fouled an executed paint jumper. In an important call, the umpires ruled that Brown was not fouled, but – importantly – he did not commit a foul himself, dodging a difficult fourth foul early in the third. It was a relatively good break for the Celtics…which Brown nullified almost immediately, committing a fourth foul two minutes later and leaving the game with just over nine minutes remaining in the quarter.
The margin for error became dangerously narrow as the third quarter progressed. Mimicking the Celtics in the second, the Heat took the bonus with over nine minutes remaining in the third. The lead then hung in one possession for most of the quarter as the Heat managed to stay close even as their distinguished deep shooting began to cool. Miami’s approach to the kitchen sink began to crumble as the clock ticked. The Celtics extended their lead to 13 points by the end of the third, and in the final frame they led by seven points, 79-72.
Miami closed the lead again during Tatum’s rest minutes in the first quarter, going back one possession before Derrick White pushed them away for three-pointers. However, their rise continued after Tatum’s return to 11-3, allowing Miami to regain a one-point lead with about eight minutes remaining. A goaltender, a foul and a technique from Adebayo allowed the Celtics to regain the lead, and after later possession, he was blocked by Horford during a dunk attempt. Two free throws from Brown followed, and the Celtics made five with just over seven minutes remaining.
Tatum’s two consecutive free throws – his first points in the second half – gave the Celtics a seven-point lead before Duncan Robinson’s three-pointer led Miami’s next wave. The Celtics had the necessary answers, with White’s three-pointer and Smart’s i-one lay-up, giving them a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left on the clock.
Losing 100-91 with just over three minutes left, the Heat had one more jump. Vincent traded a layup and Butler hit a three-pointer, then Butler recorded a 1-of-2 go to the free-throw line to reduce Boston’s lead to three points with one and a half minutes left. Butler’s missed free kick resulted in an offensive rebound for the Heat, but Robinson missed a wide-open three-pointer and had a chance to draw. A 1-of-2 outing for Brown gave the Celtics a four-point lead, but Butler recorded a three-pointer, leaving both teams with only one point with 53 seconds left. A pair of empty possessions followed as Tatum was blocked by Adebayo during a layup attempt and Robinson missed another three-pointer before Smart drew the foul and made 1 of 2 free throws, giving Boston a two point lead.
Then came a spectacular finish. With the shot clock off, Butler tied a penalty kick from Horford to go on the line with a chance to send the game into overtime. Joe Mazzulla contested the play – a two-point jumper – and upon verification, it was determined that Butler was not only fouled, but also with both feet behind the three-point line, giving him an extra free throw and a chance to put Heat ahead of us. He converted all three and Mazzulla took the final break with three seconds left. After playing off the field, Smart missed a quick three-pointer, but White collected an offensive rebound and tipped in a layup with fractions of a second to spare, securing a 104–103 victory.
Next game: Game 7. The Celtics and Heat will face off in Boston on a trip to the NBA Finals this Monday at 8:30 p.m. EST on TNT.