The Celtics have tried all series to shake the turnover bug. The Heat grabbing, jumping passing lanes and pushing the boundaries to disrupt Boston’s offense and open theirs up.
In one perilous sequence, Tatum’s spinning into P.J. Tucker cost the Celtics a trip to the NBA Finals — for now. After Jaylen Brown missed a pair of free throws that could’ve given Boston a two-point lead with two minutes remaining, Jimmy Butler tore through Al Horford and scored at the basket to reach 47 points on 16-for-29 shooting with Miami’s season on the line. With Boston on the verge of its first appearance in the championship round, Tatum didn’t attempt his first shot in the fourth quarter until one minute remained. His try prior went the other way, in Miami’s hands, like 16 other possessions did through the Celtics’ 111-103 loss in Game 6.
Now, they’ll travel to FTX Arena for a Game 7 on Sunday night.
Max Strus and Kyle Lowry broke their 1-for-28 early with consecutive baskets. Butler broke out grabbing a pass from Al Horford and dumped off a pass behind him to Strus for a dunk. Lowry hit a three on a kick-out from Bam Adebayo and following Strus after Tatum blocked him in transition.
The Heat spent the first quarter running the floor like they did in Game 5, except this time shots fell in droves. They hit five of their first eight attempts from three, nearly matching their total output from Wednesday in one early sequence. The Celtics aided them by throwing away five possessions, allowing Butler to find himself following the takeaways and misses.
Butler ate up early misses by Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, scoring himself on the fast break and firing a go-ahead pass to Caleb Martin to build a double-digit lead, 19-9. He cut off a pass attempt from Tatum to Grant Williams and the Celtics, like in Game 5, got fortunate when Strus missed a transition three from the right wing. They wouldn’t get as lucky as they did in the last win.
Butler hit six of his first 10 shot attempts, including three triples in the first half, his first time hitting that many since Game 2 in the first round against the Hawks. He fed Martin for a three on the drive, attacked Robert Williams III, missing and grabbing his own rebound, finishing the frame with a cutting finish straight-on from Adebayo posting in front of him.
Tatum and Brown offered two responses in the second quarter. Tatum scored Boston’s first nine points while the Heat went cold opening 1-for-5 with three turnovers, giving the Celtics their first lead, 32-31. It didn’t last long, Butler burying another three and helping put Horford and Grant Williams in early foul trouble with three each before halftime. Brown scored 11 straight to overcome a 40-33 deficit. Boston led by four after Brown scored through Martin on the break, walking gingerly after bumping knees. Butler and Adebayo scored six straight into halftime in response, aided once again a live ball turnover from Smart — Boston’s ninth after 10 in the first half on Wednesday.
Smart, who started 0-for-5 from deep, finally hit one in the corner through a quick fourth foul on Tucker into the second half. Butler had just laid in a reverse layup past Williams III though, resting it just on the edge of the rim. He grabbed another bad pass by Horford and took it home on the break through Smart for three-point play to answer Smart’s four. Lowry found Oladipo and Strus soon after from deep for consecutive threes that built the Heat’s largest lead — 70-58.
Butler hit 30 points before the fourth quarter on a pull-up two, while the Celtics started finding Williams III after a two-point first half. He dropped 10 in the third, Brown landing an alley-oop in his hands above the rim and White hitting him with a dump-off pass for two. Horford chased down a miss from Smart to close the quarter, and Smart repositioned himself in the post to hit Williams III on the other side with a wraparound pass. The Celtics, chasing all the way, remained within four points entering the final frame on an eight-point burst from White.
The Celtics still had no answer for Butler, not even Ime Udoka’s challenge after he pulled up through Grant to start the fourth and deliver a fifth foul on the forward and three points to bump Miami back up by seven. Udoka kept him in the game and it paid immediate dividends, sneaking in the way of Strus’ outlet pass after White missed inside and drawing two free throws. White buried his next try from three, then scored through Lowry’s foul attacking Strus’ closeout following Tatum’s drive-and-kick to him in the corner. Grant got fouled chasing White’s free throw miss, keeping the ball in the offensive zone.
The Heat turned over their next three possession, only mustering five points on Butler heaves over the next four minutes. Each make the Celtics’ way raised the volume. Brown’s free throws. Tatum’s that sent Tucker to the official, then the bench with five fouls. Horford’s three from White tied the game. White’s from Horford gave Boston a 97-94 lead four minutes from the NBA Finals.
Only time ran off too slowly, as Lowry hit a game-tying three from Butler and go-ahead free throws before he turned the ball over in the back court. White had chased him down, and Brown drew Lowry’s sixth personal foul on the other end. With the Celtics in the bonus and on the verge of a lead, Brown missed both free throws, sending Butler out for the decisive basket. White, fouling Tucker on the next defensive possession in the bonus, couldn’t believe the call.
Brown fouled out after Butler reached 45 points on a game-icing jumper, a potential trip to the free throw line to draw within two points with 12 seconds remaining. Butler hit his free throws the other way — reaching 47 points and surpassing LeBron James’ infamous 45 in the Garden 10 years ago in the Game 6 of those east finals.
Just like then, it’s back to Miami.