Boston Celtics is in position to make NBA history when it hosts Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night.
No NBA team ever has recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. The second-seeded Celtics have a chance to knock that door down after winning the past three games of the best-of-seven set.
Boston was three seconds away from losing the series on Saturday night before Derrick White’s memorable tip-in just before time expired gave the Celtics an improbable 104-103 road win.
Now the scene shifts to Boston with the winner of Monday’s game landing the opportunity to face the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals.
“We’re all aware it’s not time to celebrate,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “We didn’t accomplish anything. We won a big game that we had to win in incredible fashion. We’re proud of the way we played, proud of the way we figured it out.
“But the job is far from finished. (Miami) is a great team, really well-coached team, and we’ve got to be ready on Monday. It’s not over.”
The three teams to force a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0 are the New York Knicks (lost to the Rochester Royals in the 1951 NBA Finals), Nuggets (fell to the Utah Jazz in the 1994 second round) and Portland Trail Blazers (lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2003 first round). Each of those three teams lost Game 7 on the road.
No. 8 seed Miami had a chance to win the series Saturday when Jimmy Butler made three free throws with 3.0 seconds left. But White, after inbounding the ball, saw no Heat player shadowing him and went to the rim and banked in Marcus Smart’s miss just before the buzzer to muzzle Miami’s celebration.
“I have no idea how we are going to get this done,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m as shocked by that play as anyone. There’s nothing better than Game 7s. This is an incredible privilege to be playing on this stage in a Game 7 for all the stakes.”
The Heat and Celtics played a Game 7 in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, too. Boston prevailed 100-96 in Miami.
Butler will be looking for a more consistent showing after scoring 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game while shooting just 5 of 21 from the field.
“I just missed shots,” Butler said. “I’ve just got to make them. Continually hit the open guy. Stay aggressive. ... I don’t care what nobody say. Everything going to be OK.”
Miami also can make some history by joining the Knicks (1999) as the only No. 8 seeds to reach the NBA Finals.
But the bigger historical storyline revolves around the Celtics, who looked ready to call it a season after being dismantled 128-102 in Game 3.
The win one game at a time cliche rang hollow in the aftermath but now Boston can finish off a stunning comeback.
“In that moment, we could have chose to throw in the towel, and I think that everybody was expecting that was coming,” Celtics standout Jaylen Brown said. “But no, that’s not how we wanted to go out.”
In similar fashion, Boston took until the final tick of the clock to win Game 6.
“We are a resilient group. We pick each other up, we fight for each other,” White said. “But the job isn’t done yet. We have a tough one in Game 7 and we’ve got to find a way to get one more win.”
Meanwhile, Miami has to find the proper mental mindset after seeing a 3-0 lead dissipate.
“First to four. We knew this series wouldn’t be easy,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “Seems people are shocked we are in a dogfight with the Boston Celtics but first to four.”
Boston guard Malcolm Brogdon sat out Game 6 and his status for Monday hasn’t yet been firmed up.
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