The Boston Celtics had the perfect opportunity to wrap up the Eastern Conference Finals in Game 6, but the Miami Heat awoke from their two-game slump to take a 111-103 win and force a decisive Game 7 at the FTX Arena.
Jimmy Butler’s awe-inspiring game that saw him put up 47 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, four steals, a block, and just one turnover on a hobbled knee proved to be too much for the Celtics to handle. While it was indeed an all-time great showing from Butler in the face of elimination, his impressive performance only told one side of the story.
Boston had the full support of a packed TD Garden behind them but fell behind from the get-go. Although they led briefly late in the second quarter and in the early goings of the third period, the Heat were in control for most of the contest.
The Celtics pulled together one last run in the fourth quarter that saw them zip ahead by three points, 97-94, with less than five minutes remaining, yet that turned out to be the last lead that they would take for the evening.
What was most interesting about the Celtics’ fourth quarter run was that it was not Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown who led the charge for them. It was reserve guard Derrick White, recently acquired at this year’s trade deadline, who spearheaded the comeback.
The 27-year-old guard dropped 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and almost single-handedly won them the game as he stepped up in lieu of Boston’s All-Stars. Tatum had only six points in the final period and Brown was no better with a mere two.
When an opponent like Butler is having the kind of game that he had in Game 6, either Tatum or Brown has to take charge and match him shot-for-shot to keep them competitive.
Tatum successfully did this in the previous round versus Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks when he put up 46 points to force a Game 7, yet he was practically invisible down the stretch in a similar situation against the Heat. Brown was nowhere to be found as well and even missed two crucial free throws when the match was still tied at 99 with 2:18 remaining on the game clock.
Tatum still managed a decent line, putting up 30 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block, although he did turn the ball over seven times. Meanwhile, Brown put up 20 points, six rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
These kinds of stat lines are more than passable during the regular season, but given the stakes of the match, much more was expected from these two stars. If the Celtics are to advance to the NBA Finals, these two stars will have to lead the way for them using the blueprint that Butler provided in Game 6.
Fortunately, they will have one more opportunity to win the East in Game 7 at an arena where they have already won twice in this series. Boston has also not lost two consecutive games in this postseason which is a testament to the resilience of this up-and-coming team.
Miami looked like it was out for the count in their back-to-back losses in Games 4 and 5, yet responded with a gallant effort when their backs were against the wall in Game 6. The Celtics will have to respond with that same level of urgency come Game 7 and should be boosted by their experience from the previous series that also went the distance.
Boston has one more chance to make it to their first NBA Finals since 2010, but they–especially Tatum and Brown–will first have to prove that they can withstand the Heat one last time.