The Boston Celtics were placed into several adverse situations throughout Game 6 Saturday night. But as they have done throughout the second half of the Eastern Conference Finals, they found a way to overcome the odds.
Despite a cold shooting night, despite foul trouble for one of their stars, despite missing their sixth man, and despite trailing with less than a second remaining, the Celtics still found a way to achieve the improbable with a 104-103 win in Miami courtesy of a Derrick White game-winning buzzer-beater.
And now they are on the verge of achieving what was once thought to be impossible, as they are just one win away from becoming the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.
It was a strange night all around for the Celtics. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were unusually cold from beyond the arc, where they combined to shoot 0-for-12. In fact, most of the team couldn’t make a three, as it shot a season-low 20.0 percent from deep (7-of-35). Marcus Smart (4-of-11) and White (3-of-7) combined for all seven of those makes, by the way.
Yet, the Jays still produced strong offensive performances, combining for 57 points to account for more than half of the team’s scoring production. They both found other ways to put points on the board, as Tatum shot 8-of-14 from inside the arc and a perfect 15-for-15 from the free-throw line, while Brown made 9-of-12 from 2-point range and 8-of-10 from the charity stripe.
Another bit of adversity that Brown faced was entering foul trouble early in the second half. He picked up his fourth foul just two minutes into the third quarter, resulting in an early trip to the bench.
Normally, the Celtics could’ve called on Malcolm Brogdon to slide into Brown’s place, but the Sixth Man of the Year was out of commission due to a right forearm strain.
Fortunately, the C’s didn’t lose any ground during the four-plus minutes that Brown spent on the sideline, as their four-point lead remained intact from the time he left the court until the time he checked back in.
Brown scored a quick six points after re-entering the game, guiding Boston on a 9-0 run toward the end of the third frame. As for his foul trouble, he went the final 17-plus minutes without getting whistled again.
The Celtics didn’t make things easy on themselves down the stretch, just as they didn’t make things easy on themselves in the first three games of the series. They were ahead by 10 points with less than four minutes remaining but then allowed Miami to claw its way back on a 15-4 run.
The last three points of that run were scored after Jimmy Butler was fouled on a 3-point shot with 3.0 seconds remaining. With his team down two, Butler calmly stepped to the line and sunk all three free throws to give Miami a 103-102 lead.
The Celtics took a timeout and put the ball in their soon-to-be-hero's hands at midcourt. White delivered the inbound pass to Smart, then darted over to the corner in case of a return pass. When he saw Smart rise up for the game-winning 3-point attempt, White changed direction and crashed the glass. He arrived near the restricted area just as Smart’s game-winning attempt rimmed out, then miraculously grabbed the ball mid-air and laid it in off the glass as time expired.
As stunning of a finish as it was, this Celtics team continues to prove that it can overcome any type of adversity. And it has a 5-0 record in elimination games this postseason to show for it.
“They're just resilient,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “I've said it throughout the year, that's one of the best locker rooms I've ever been a part of. It starts with them. They have a togetherness. They have a connectivity. At their hardest times, they stick by each other, and they've done that for a long time.”
This team has always thrived in adverse situations, and Jaylen Brown says that speaks a lot about the team’s collective character.
“Don't measure a man when everything is going well,” he said. “Measure a team or a group or an individual when adversity hits.”
The Celtics overcame one adverse situation after another to grab Game 6 in Miami.
Now, there’s just one obstacle left between them and a trip to the NBA Finals: Game 7 Monday night at TD Garden.