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Instant analysis: How the Celtics survived a massive Heat comeback to take Game 6

Game 6 hero Derrick White and Jaylen Brown (right) celebrate the Celtics' victory at the buzzer over the Heat.Mike Ehrmann/Getty

MIAMI — With the Celtics’ season on the brink of a sudden, stunning end, Derrick White saved their season and kept their championship hopes more than alive.

After Jimmy Butler led a massive Heat comeback in the final minutes of Game 6, White converted a putback off a Marcus Smart 3-point miss ahead of the buzzer, sending Boston to a 104-103 win on Saturday night at Kaseya Center that tied this series at 3.

The Celtics, who once trailed this series 3-0, will have a chance to advance to the Finals when they return to TD Garden for Game 7 Monday night.


Boston led by 10 points with four minutes left when Butler, who had struggled for most of the night, led his team’s comeback surge.

Smart was fouled and hit one of two free throws to give Boston a 102-100 lead with 16.2 seconds left, and much like in last year’s Game 7, Butler went for the win. He was fouled by Al Horford in the right corner, and it was initially ruled a two-shot foul. Boston challenged the play and lost, and the review showed it was actually a foul on a 3-pointer, and Butler calmly drilled all three free throws to give Miami a 103-102 lead with 3 seconds left.

The Celtics were unable to get the ball to Jayson Tatum, and Smart’s 22-footer from the left arc rattled all the way in and out. But White streaked in from the left side and converted the putback just before the buzzer.

Tatum had 31 points and 11 rebounds and Jaylen Brown added 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who overcame a 7 for 35 3-point shooting effort (20 percent). Butler had 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Heat, who shot just 35.5 percent from the field.


There were chances for the Celtics to create separation throughout the night but they were mostly unable. And a deep Duncan Robinson 3-pointer that was followed by a Butler putback briefly gave the Heat an 83-82 lead, their first since the opening quarter.

The Celtics stormed back with an 8-0 run, and after Robinson pulled Miami within 4, a White 3-pointer and Smart 3-point play quickly stretched the lead back to 98-88 with just over four minutes left.

But Butler, who struggled throughout the night, would not let his team go down quietly. He got to the foul line twice and then hit a 3-pointer with 2:06 left that made it 100-96.

With Boston still trailing by 4 points, Butler converted a 3-point play with 53.2 seconds left that made it 101-100. Tatum was blocked inside and Robinson missed a wide-open 3-pointer that would have given his team the lead.

Miami did eventually push in front behind Butler, but White ensured that it did not matter.

Observations from the game:

⋅ Caleb Martin, who has been dominant off the bench in this series, started in place of Kevin Love, who has been a defensive liability. Sometimes coaches try to avoid disturbing the rhythm of a player who is on a roll, but the change certainly did not affect Martin negatively in the first half. In fact, he was Miami’s primary source of offense as Butler And Bam Adebayo struggled to get untracked. Some of it was just tough shot-making, but the Celtics had to be more aware of his presence. On one first-quarter 3-pointer Martin had time to square up, look down to set his feet, and fire away with no resistance. The shot went in. Martin was 5 for 7 from the field in the first half, with 14 points and 9 rebounds.


⋅ Gabe Vincent returned for Miami after missing Game 5 with a sprained ankle. He looked a little tentative at the start and struggled with a few finishes, but he held up on defense and drilled 3 of 4 first-half 3-pointers. One came after another miscommunication by Boston’s defense.

⋅ Butler picked up his second foul early in the second, and the Celtics also entered the free throw penalty early in the quarter. Tatum seemed well aware of both of these things when he attacked Butler for baskets on consecutive plays. The Heat soon switched Martin back on Tatum to keep Butler from picking up another foul.

⋅ Tatum was incredibly aggressive in the first half, and the Heat simply had no answer. He attacked and converted tough layups and floaters, or was fouled when he got there. The Celtics star took nine total free throws in Games 3, 4, and 5 combined, and he was 11 for 11 from the line in the first half of Game 6. The only blip on his 25-point half was his continued struggle from the 3-point line, where he was 0 for 4. He couldn’t build on that strong first-half showing in the third quarter, however, as he was held scoreless.


⋅ Celtics center Robert Williams appeared to hurt his left hand or wrist late in the second quarter. His arm hung by his side for a few possessions before he went to the locker room to get checked out. Williams was 3 for 3 from the field before that, including a powerful one-handed alley-oop. There were some anxious moments for Celtics fans when Williams was the last Celtics player to return to the court after halftime, but he eventually did with his left wrist taped.

⋅ The officials put their whistles away at the start and allowed quite a bit of contact from both sides. Then in the third quarter they started calling fouls that were not fouls during the first half.

⋅ Something just seemed off with Butler through the first three quarters. Maybe the toll of a grueling postseason has finally caught up with him. Maybe he’s dealing with an injury. [It probably didn’t help when Adebayo fell on him in the second quarter]. The Celtics contained him in single coverage most of the time and bothered him at the rim. At the start of the fourth quarter he was just 2 for 15 from the field, with 9 points.

⋅ Brown was very good in first quarters for much of the regular season, but those hot starts were sometimes followed by cool spells. That’s sort of how his first half went. He started 5 for 5 from the field, with some tough mid-range jumpers. But he took exception to taking a shot on his injured left wrist when he was fouled by Kyle Lowry early in the second quarter. He missed one of the free throws then turned the ball over on two drives soon after. He did not make a shot in the second quarter and then picked up his fourth foul early in the third.


⋅ Cody Zeller has been borderline unplayable for the Heat in this series. The Celtics attacked him relentlessly during his stint of less than three minutes, and Boston outscored Miami by 7 points during that stretch.

Read more about Game 6:

Sullivan: After that finish, who would doubt the Celtics now?

Washburn: A historic moment for Derrick White

Himmelsbach: Buzzer-beater keeps Celtics’ NBA championship hopes alive

Celtics Notebook: Malcolm Brogdon sidelined for Game 6

Boston Globe Today: Sports | May 26, 2023
Watch today’s full episode of Boston Globe Today Sports from May 26, 2023

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.