Derrick White’s late putback lifts Celtics over Heat, forces Game 7 in East finals

The Celtics' Derrick White scores on a putback with one-tenth of a second left against the Heat on May 27, 2023.
The Celtics’ Derrick White scores on a putback just before time expires Saturday night, giving Boston a 104-103 victory at Miami in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
(Issac Baldizon / NBAE via Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics were a tenth of a second away from elimination. The Miami Heat were a tenth of a second from the NBA Finals.

Derrick White owned that final moment.

White scored on a putback just before time expired, and the Boston Celtics moved to the verge of the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history, edging the Miami Heat 104-103 on Saturday night to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.


White knew it was good. Referees reviewed it, but it didn’t take long to give the official word.

Elation for Boston. Devastation for Miami.

“Just happy we won,” White said. “Whatever it takes.”

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May 27, 2023

Jayson Tatum scored 31 points, Jaylen Brown had 26 and Marcus Smart contributed 21 for the Celtics, who became only the fourth NBA team to erase a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series and force a deciding game. The others in that club — the 1951 New York Knicks in the NBA Finals, the 1994 Denver Nuggets in the second round and the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers in the first round — all lost Game 7, all on the road.

Boston, however, is going home for its shot at history. Game 7 is Monday night on the Celtics’ floor, a matchup that will decide who meets the Western Conference champion Nuggets in a title series that will start Thursday night.

“It’s a seven-game series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “There’s nothing better than Game 7s.”

Jimmy Butler made three free throws with three seconds left for a one-point Heat lead, capping a Miami rally from 10 points down with less than four minutes remaining.

The Celtics' Jayson Tatum shoots over the Heat's Max Strus during the second half May 27, 2023.
The Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, who had 31 points and 11 rebounds, shoots over the Heat’s Max Strus during the second half.
(Michael Laughlin / Associated Press)

The Celtics had White inbound the ball on the game’s final possession, and he passed to Smart — who missed a three-point try. But White sprinted from the inbound spot to the rim, the ball fell into his hands and he got the lay-in away just before time ran out.

“Just resiliency from the guys,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “That’s it.”

Mazzulla was asked what went through his mind at that moment.

“Nothing,” Mazzulla said. “Game 7.”

Derrick White had 24 points, including six 3-pointers, and the Boston Celtics dominated the Miami Heat 110-97 in Game 5 to extend the Eastern Conference finals.

May 25, 2023

Butler scored 24 points and Caleb Martin had 21 for the Heat, who are trying to pull off their own improbable trek to the title series by being only the second No. 8 seed to make the NBA Finals. They have now lost as many games this week — three — as they had in their first 14 playoff games this spring combined on the way to ousting No. 1 Milwaukee, then No. 5 New York and taking what was supposed to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the second-seeded Celtics.

The Celtics have now won five of their last six East finals games in Miami — a stretch that includes a Game 7 victory over the Heat last season to reach the NBA Finals.

That one, obviously, ended the Heat‘s season. At least this time, Miami still has a chance.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get this done, but we’re going to go out there and get it done,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s what the next 48 hours is about. There’s been nothing easy about this season for our group, and so we just have to do it the hard way.”

The Heat's Jimmy Butler handles the ball against the Celtics' Derrick White on May 27, 2023.
The Heat’s Jimmy Butler, who scored 24 points but shot five for 21 from the field, handles the ball against the Celtics’ Derrick White during the second half.
(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

The Heat are the 151st team to grab a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. All 150 of the previous clubs finished the job. But the Celtics have made it very clear that they have other ideas, and Mazzulla listed a lot of reasons.

“Faith, love, togetherness, physicality, belief, hope,” Mazzulla said. “All those things combined. It starts with the locker room. Those guys had a choice to make, and they chose to believe in each other.”


Celtics: Boston is 5-0 when facing elimination this season, 3-0 on the road. The Celtics beat Philadelphia twice on their way to erasing a 3-2 lead in the East semifinals and now have tied this series. … Malcolm Brogdon (right forearm strain) was downgraded to out about an hour before game time. ... White scored 11 points for the Celtics, and Robert Williams III had 10.

Heat: Gabe Vincent scored 15 points, Duncan Robinson had 13 and Bam Adebayo added 11 for Miami. ... Diddy was at the game, as were former Heat guard Goran Dragic and Florida Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk. … Unless Miami wins Game 7 at Boston, it might have been the final home game of Heat forward Udonis Haslem’s 20-year career. The Heat are 613-297 in the 910 games in their home arena with Haslem on the roster; that doesn’t include the restart bubble’s home games in 2020.

Game 7 history

The Celtics are 27-9 in Game 7s, winners of their last four — including one in Miami last season and one earlier this season, against Philadelphia in the East semifinals. They are 1-1 against the Heat all time in such games (losing the 2012 East finals deciding game in Miami) and 22-5 at home in Game 7.


The Heat are 6-5 all time in Game 7s, losing their last two (home vs. Boston in 2022, at Toronto in 2016), and are 0-2 when facing such a game on the road. Besides the Raptors game seven years ago, they lost a Game 7 at Atlanta in 2009.

Unsuccessfully successful

Spoelstra used a challenge early in the third quarter, after Martin was called for a foul on a play where Brown scored. Miami claimed Brown hooked Martin; referees, after review, said there was no foul on Martin — but counted the basket anyway and the Heat lost their review.