Facing elimination, with their backs against the wall for the second time in two days, the Boston Celtics didn’t have quite enough answers for the surging Miami Heat. Though they played the Heat tough throughout the night — even leading by six midway through the fourth quarter — the Celtics couldn’t respond to a strong Miami run in the closing minutes in the game. The Miami Heat are going to the NBA Finals, and the Boston Celtics are going home.
Jayson Tatum flirted with a triple double, leading the way for the Celtics with 24 points, 7 rebounds and 11 assists. Jaylen Brown added another strong two-way performance with 26 points and 3 steals, and Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart chipped in 20 points apiece of their own. But it wasn’t enough to topple the Heat, who rode a 32 point night from Bam Adebayo and a gritty 22 point performance from Jimmy Butler to finally end the Celtics’ season.
Defense ruled the early minutes of the contest, as neither team could find a scoring rhythm to begin the game. Boston and Miami combined for 1-of-12 shooting in the first shift of the game, with the bulk of the few early points coming at the free throw line after fouls on Adebayo, Dragic and Walker. Unlike in recent games, though, the Celtics did not seem lethargic out of the game, and — perhaps more importantly — started to see some threes hit the bottom of the net. Marcus Smart found himself a hot early start with a pair of triples in the first six minutes of the game.
As the Celtics heated up, so too did Miami. Coming out of the first break of the game, the Heat came alive from behind the arc. Robinson, Crowder and even Andre Iguodala connected on a number of open looks from deep. The Heat connected on five triples in the first quarter and pushed their lead as far as nine, and entered the second quarter with a 33-27 advantage over the Celtics.
Jayson Tatum recent first half struggles carried over into Game 6. He started 0-for-7 from the field on the evening (though he did dish six assists over that span), and didn’t record his first points of the game until he connected on a pull-up triple with eight minutes left to play in the second quarter. That triple opened the floodgates, however. Tatum hit four of his seven shots the rest of the way in the first half.
Smart continued to bombard the Heat from behind the arc, splashing two more triples in the first two minutes of the second quarter. There was a nice flow to the second quarter of this contest, with both teams finding quality offense and remaining largely neck-and-neck throughout the period. Miami held a slight edge in the early going, bolstered by an assertive approach from Butler (13 points in the first half). But the Celtics offense continued to fire on all cylinders, preventing the Heat from building a greater lead. Miami led at the half, 62-60.
Defense remained hard to find as second half play commenced. The Heat continued to find good looks from behind the arc, with Dragic and Robinson connecting early, while the Celtics kept up the tempo and made plays against the Miami zone. Notably, Walker and Theis continued to struggle with foul trouble, as both players picked up their fourth fouls in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Walker found his way to the bench, but Stevens opted to stick with Theis despite the danger.
The pace in the third quarter was simply frenetic. Both teams had little to no issues finding their offense, and continued to shoot the lights out. Iguodala proved to be a significant difference-maker for the Heat, following up his two first-half threes with two more in the quarter, a brutal development considering his status as the player the Celtics needed to worry about the least on that end of the floor. His torrent pushed the Miami lead to eight. The Celtics fought back, however, tying the game on a quick 10-2 run with just over a minute to play. The score would be 88-86 in favor of the Heat heading into the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Brown snagged a steal and charged down court for a fast break dunk. He was clipped in the air by Butler, and came down hard, clutching at his left leg. He did not make it up the court for the ensuing Heat possession, and appeared to avoid putting much weight on the injured leg. Stevens subsequently took a timeout, but Brown remained in the game when play resumed.
Brown clearly felt okay in the ensuing minutes, as he swiped another steal and scored on another one-man fast break moments later to push Boston’s lead to six with nine minutes to play (their highest of the game to that point). Tyler Herro quickly responded, nailing a pair of smooth pull-up jumpers to bring the game back to a tie. The two teams resumed trading blows for the next several minutes, with the game remaining within one possession.
Boston’s foul trouble returned in the closing minutes. With just over five minutes to play, Theis fouled out of the game after getting whistled on an Adebayo midrange jumper. Grant Williams returned to the game to relieve him. Walker picked up his fifth foul moments later, after fouling Iguodala on the floor.
The Heat went for the throat during this sequence. Robinson connected on a triple and Herro a layup, pushing their edge to seven with four minutes remaining in regulation. The Heat would extend their lead further just moments later, as an Iguodala free throw and another Herro layup extended their lead to 10, the largest lead of the game with just three minutes to play. Butler would extend it to 12 with a pair of free throws of his own.
As the clocked ticked under three minutes, it felt as though we’d seen the Celtics’ last gasp. The offense had gone cold and the Heat continued to deal, stretching their lead further and further while Boston continued to scuffle. After an absolutely bizarre season in every sense, this was unfortunately the end for the 2019-20 Celtics, who will now enter the offseason exploring ways to take the next step to the NBA Finals alongside Jayson Tatum and their talented young core. Meanwhile, the Heat will carry their unlikely postseason run into an NBA Finals matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.