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Beat writer's notebook

A sneaky good challenge, some airport trolling, and eight other observations from another season-saving win

Joe Mazzulla's late challenge worked out just fine for the Celtics.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Ten leftover sights, sounds, and observations following the Celtics’ wild 104-103 Game 6 win over the Heat on Saturday night in the Eastern Conference finals …

⋅ The Celtics absolutely got a fortunate bounce when Marcus Smart’s missed 3-pointer in the final second went right to Derrick White, who converted the winning putback. But that wasn’t the only possibility. Jayson Tatum had some room streaking down the lane and was in excellent position to secure a putback of his own if the ball went the other way.

⋅ Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca hugged White after his game-winner and told him he’d just crafted his own “Havlicek stole the ball” moment, a reference to Celtics legend John Havlicek’s last-minute steal that sealed Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals against the 76ers.


White told Pagliuca that he knew he had very little time, so he’d tried to use his fingertips rather than catching the ball with his palms to save whatever milliseconds he might need.

⋅ So, this was the deal with Al Horford’s foul on Jimmy Butler’s 3-pointer that helped Miami take the lead in the final seconds: It was initially ruled a two-shot foul, and the clock was stopped at 2.1 seconds. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla used a challenge, and some viewed it as a colossal mistake when the review showed that Butler was actually behind the 3-point line.

But that would have been reviewed even without the challenge. The clock, however, would not have been, and thanks to the challenge, 0.9 seconds were added. That extra time proved to be pretty helpful.

⋅ How in the world did the Celtics win a playoff game in which they made just 7 of 35 3-pointers and forced just five turnovers? It all came down to the mid-range. In an unofficial tally based on the NBA.com shot chart, the Celtics connected on 12 of 19 shots inside the 3-point line and outside the restricted area, while the Heat were just 6 for 28 in that zone.


The game seemed to hinge on Al Horford's late foul on Jimmy Butler, and in some ways, it did in the end.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

⋅ What do the Heat do now? Butler and Bam Adebayo might have to play the full 48 minutes in Game 7, but that could be problematic since both appeared gassed for much of Game 6. The Celtics have emphasized pushing the pace throughout the series, and they should probably kick it up a notch again.

Backup center Cody Zeller has been used sparingly, but his minutes have been a disaster, with the Celtics successfully hunting him in the paint. In five of the first six games of this series Miami has been outscored with Zeller on the floor. If Adebayo needs a breather, maybe Kevin Love, who started the first five games, will get a shot.

⋅ Look, my job is not that difficult. And a ball boy provided further evidence by briefly interviewing Tatum before any of us reporters had a chance.

“One of the ball boys asked me that after the game, he was like, ‘What does it feel like being out there?’ ” Tatum said. “And I told him, ‘You’re aware of the score, you’re aware of what’s happening, but also you don’t understand, like, the magnitude. You’re just staying in the moment.’ ”

⋅ The Celtics certainly aren’t looking ahead to the Nuggets, but this is just a sports section, so, whatever.


If Boston advances to face Denver in the Finals, the early rhythm will be fascinating. Denver will have had 10 days off ahead of Game 1 after sweeping the Lakers, and the Celtics will be less than 72 hours removed from their second grueling seven-game series in a row.

Yes, Denver will have fresher legs. But this could go the other way, too. The Nuggets might have rust to shake off, and the Celtics could be riding the momentum from a thrilling and historic comeback. We’ll just have to see.

⋅ New Hampshire native Duncan Robinson, who has been excellent in this series, is going to be haunted by his two missed 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter. On the first, with 1:27 left and the Heat trailing by 3, he was inexplicably left wide open on the right arc. He had time to set his feet, take a dribble, and line up the shot. It hit the back rim.

A minute later, with Boston clinging to a 1-point lead, the Celtics lost Robinson in transition and he had an in-rhythm pull-up from the left arc. It also caromed off the back rim. It was poor defense both times. Up to that point, Robinson was 13 for 26 from beyond the arc in the series.

⋅ It’s always fun to look at the anticipation and reaction shots from a historic finish such as that one. Injured forward Danilo Gallinari, impeccably dressed, as always, in a stylish suit, probably had the best one. As White went up for the putback, Gallinari stood in front of Boston’s bench with his fingers on his temples, as if providing assistance with some sorcery.


⋅ I was boarding my flight from Miami to Boston on Sunday morning when the JetBlue gate agent took a swipe at the hometown team’s suddenly reeling fan base.

“Now boarding Group C,” he said. “C, as in future NBA-champion Celtics.”


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.