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  • Dan Crouch

Boston Celtics one game away from historic NBA playoffs comeback

Updated: May 31, 2023

Derrick White's putback attempt leaves his fingertips just before time expires to win the game for the Celtics. Picture: Rhona Wise.

No team in NBA playoffs history has ever come back to win a best-of-seven series from a 3-0 deficit. That trend looked likely to continue in game six of the eastern conference finals when Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler made three free throws to give the Miami Heat a one-point lead with three seconds left. The trend looked almost certain to continue when Marcus Smart's game-winning three-point attempt rolled in and out but ultimately missed, prompting Heat fans in the arena and in living rooms all around Miami to start celebrating their victory.

Enter Derrick White. The Celtics' jack of all trades followed Smart's miss and miraculously rebounded and put the ball in the hoop as time expired to give the Celtics a one-point victory and force a winner-takes-all game seven on Boston's home court.

There was confusion all over the court as nobody knew if the shot would count or not. For a brief moment the broadcast's on-screen scoreboard even said "Miami wins series 4-2". A replay review quickly confirmed the ball left White's fingertips with 0.1 seconds left on the clock and the Celtics had won one of the most chaotic games in NBA history.

The frantic finish was not without its share of controversy. The shooting foul which sent Jimmy Butler to the free throw line was initially called a two-point shot with 2.1 seconds left on the game clock, however Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged the foul call in a desperate move to keep Butler off the free throw line entirely.

The challenge was unsuccessful in overturning the foul, but it shaped the final plays nevertheless. It showed Butler had both feet behind the three-point line and would shoot three free throws instead of two - allowing him to give Miami a lead rather than drawing level - but it also showed the foul occurred with 3 seconds left, not 2.1 seconds as originally called.

It was less than a second added to the clock, but it was just enough time to alter NBA history.

The NBA have since confirmed that the officials made no errors during the finals plays of the game and the extra time added to the clock was done so correctly.

The Celtics last week became the 150th team to lose the first three games in a best-of-seven series and face the arduous task of winning four in a row. Of the other 149 teams in that position: 91 teams lost in game four, 44 lost in game five, 11 lost in game six, and three forced a game seven but ultimately lost.

Boston now have the opportunity to create an incredible piece of history. The winner of Tuesday's game seven in Boston will face the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals.


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