Boston Celtics Force Game 7 Against Miami Heat With Buzzer-Beater

After the miracle and the madness, Gabe Vincent broke the silence inside the Miami Heat locker room on Saturday night by humming along to “Life Goes On,” a ballad by Ed Sheeran featuring Luke Combs.

Most of Vincent’s teammates were long gone by then, bound for their Miami-area homes as they faced the collective challenge of figuring out how to rebound from a soul-crushing loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

It was a public vote of confidence after a game full of missed opportunities for the Heat. Where to begin? Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, their two best players, combined to shoot 9 of 37 from the field.

Butler, in particular, looked downright passive for much of the game. There he was in the second quarter, handling the ball at the top of the perimeter with the shot clock winding down. But instead of driving, Butler shoved a pass to Duncan Robinson, who had little choice but to hoist a runner from 11 feet that grazed the front of the rim. A few seconds later, the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum was at the other end for a layup.

But other plays could haunt the Heat, too. In the fourth quarter, for example, Adebayo grabbed the rim blocking a shot, which was against the rules and led to a 4-point possession for the Celtics.

As a team, the Heat shot 35.5 percent from the field. They missed hook shots and layups, jumpers and floaters. They still had a chance thanks to Caleb Martin, who slid into the starting lineup and scored 21 points, and Butler, who asserted himself late and was fouled attempting a 3-pointer with 3 seconds remaining. He made all three free throws for a 1-point lead.

“I thought we had a lot of things covered on that play,” Spoelstra said, “and sometimes things just don’t break your way. I don’t think there’s any regrets on that. It’s just a shame.”

Butler, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, shouldered the blame.

“If I play better, we’re not even in this position,” he said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

After finishing the regular season with a 44-38 record, the Heat landed in the play-in tournament and lost their opening game to the Atlanta Hawks. The Heat then trailed the Chicago Bulls by as many as 6 points in the fourth quarter of an elimination game before they went on a game-winning run to narrowly slip into the playoffs.

But something odd was beginning to percolate inside the Heat: The greater the challenge, the better they played. Facing the top-seeded Bucks in the first round, Miami lost two rotation players, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, to long-term injuries, which should have been problematic. But Butler was brilliant as the Heat advanced in five games.

But that version of Butler has been missing as the Heat’s three-game series lead has slipped away. He has been passing up shots, hesitating on drives and turning the ball over. In other words, he looks tired from the grind of a long season.

Now, Miami is facing its greatest test yet. Butler said he planned to decompress by playing a late-night game of Spades.

“I’m not going to let our guys quit,” he said. “I don’t care what nobody says. Everything going to be OK.”

For the Celtics, the No. 2 seed, Game 7 is one more chance for them to salvage their season and make good on their pledge to return to the N.B.A. finals, one year after losing to the Golden State Warriors. Tatum has been inconsistent, even in victory, routinely going scoreless for long stretches with his season in jeopardy every night. He scored just 6 of his 31 points in the second half of Saturday’s game.

“We’re all aware it’s not time to celebrate,” Tatum said. “We didn’t accomplish anything.”

It was approaching midnight when Butler called guard Kyle Lowry to his locker for a quiet chat. Vincent had vacated the premises, taking his moody music with him.

At the front of the room, a monitor had exactly one item listed on the team’s schedule for Sunday: a 1:30 p.m. flight to Boston.

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