.Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat battles for control against Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Kaseya Center on May 27, 2023 in Miami, Florida. / Megan Briggs / Getty Images / AFP
MIAMI: After an astonishing Game 6 finish that left the Boston Celtics dumbstruck and the Miami Heat reeling, the two teams must now pick themselves up to do battle again in Monday’s (Tuesday in Manila) NBA playoff series decider.
And neither expects anything less than another epic battle in Boston.
Facing elimination, the Celtics won 104-103 in Miami on Saturday thanks to a heart-stopping buzzer-beater tip-in from Derrick White and pulled level at 3-3 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat were less than a second from booking a place in the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets but after leading the series 3-0, Miami will face the real prospect of being the first team in NBA history to lose after taking such a lead.
Momentum and form suggest the Celtics are on course to complete an unprecedented comeback but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to offer a reminder that his team has a habit of bouncing back from blows.
Miami lost a first play-in game to Atlanta before beating Chicago and entering the playoffs as the eighth seed.
The Heat then defeated the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks before taking out the New York Knicks and grabbing a surprise three-game lead over Boston.
“When we say we did it the hard way, there were some bone-crushing losses where we did the right things, and then last-second shots, just for the wins against us,” said Spoelstra, who has won two NBA championships with the Heat.
“The competitive spirit of this group, we are never to be denied. Even after games like that, we would always come back the next game and find a way to get a win. That’s what we have to do right now.”
But that will require more than competitive spirit and the right mindset — the Heat need star Jimmy Butler to rediscover his form from earlier in the series.
Over the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals, he was shooting at 46.0 percent from the field but in the last three, that number has dropped to 36.5 percent and on Saturday he made only 5-of-21 attempts from the floor.
Adding to the misfire, Bam Adebayo made just 4-of-16 attempts but Spoelstra said such numbers were of no interest to him.
“I don’t give a damn what they shot. We were up one. We may win this thing as ugly as it has ever been done. I don’t care what guys shoot,” he said.
“It’s the competitive will that I’m talking about, and those guys are going to bring it on — it’s the playoffs.”
Jayson Tatum, who led the Celtics with 31 points on Saturday, knows his team must quickly rid itself of the sense of jubilation caused by the manner of their victory.
“We’re all aware it’s not time to celebrate,” he said. “We didn’t accomplish anything. We won a big game that we had to win in incredible fashion. We’re proud of the way we played, proud of the way we figured it out.
“But the job is far from finished. [Miami] is a great team, really well-coached team, and we’ve got to be ready on Monday. It’s not over. Both teams want this extremely — like to the highest degree.
“They want it. We want it. The guys are competing on both ends, giving everything they have.”