BOSTON (AP) – Kyle Lowry listened politely while Jimmy Butler shared the credit for Miami’s Game 6 victory until his fellow All-Star took the humility too far and called his 47-point, elimination-avoiding performance “decent”.
“It’s (expletive) incredible,” Lowry corrected him, apologising for his language to the TV cameras in the back of the room and begging not to be fined by the league. “It’s incredible to have a guy like him next to me. I’ve played with some great players, and he’s one of the best.”
Butler scored 47 points – a career playoff high and one of the best performances by a player facing elimination in NBA history – and the Heat forced the Eastern Conference finals to a decisive seventh game by beating the Boston Celtics 111-103 on Friday night.
Ten years after LeBron James scored 45 points in a Game 6 in Boston en route to the first of the Heat’s back-to-back NBA titles, Butler scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to top him and send the series back to Miami.
With a victory at home, the Heat would advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.
“This is the way it should be, with these two teams. It should have gone seven games,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m just really thrilled that our group gets an opportunity to compete in Game 7 in front of our home crowd.” The winner of Game 7 will advance to the NBA Finals against Golden State, which eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in five games on Thursday night.
Warriors forward Draymond Green said afterward that he expected to play the Celtics.
In the most back-and-forth game of the series, Boston took a 97-94 lead on Derrick White’s three-pointer with under five minutes to play – the first time all series the lead has changed hands in the fourth quarter. Lowry answered with a three and then added two free throws as Miami scored 11 of the next 13 points.
Lowry finished with 18 points and 10 assists before fouling out with 2:18 left. Butler made 16 of 29 shots – including four of eight from three-point range – and all 11 free throws.
“He came out from the jump and kind of put his imprint on the game,” White said.
“That’s just who he’s been his whole career, constantly attacking and doing what he does to help his team win. We knew it was coming, and we’ve got to do a better job in Game 7.”
Jayson Tatum had 30 points and nine rebounds for Boston, and White came off the bench to score 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. The Celtics are trying to reach the finals for the first time since 2010, two years after the New Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen won the franchise’s 17th NBA title – a record since tied by the Lakers.
“It’s no secret: It’s Game 7, trip to the NBA Finals, a lot on the line,” Tatum said. “We know what’s at stake. We know how much this means to everybody.”
Jaylen Brown scored 20 points for Boston, missing a pair of free throws with the game tied at 99 after Lowry fouled out.
Brown fouled out himself on a charge offensive that was assessed after a challenge on a missed dunk with 13 seconds left and the Celtics down by four.
Butler’s 47 points were the seventh-most in NBA history for a player facing elimination. Elgin Baylor had 61 against Boston in Game 5 of the 1962 finals. Wilt Chamberlain topped 50 three times, Sleepy Floyd had 50 against the Lakers in 1987 and Jamal Murray scored 50 against Utah in 2020. It was also the third-most to stave off elimination against the Celtics.
In addition to Baylor, Chamberlain had 50 in Game 5 of the East finals in 1960.
James’ 45 against Boston in Game 6 of the 2012 conference finals set the stage for a Game 7 win in Miami.
The Heat are hoping Butler’s performance can do the same.
“I get it, people can easily draw the comparisons between the two,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a different era. That’s a different team. I want our guys to embrace this moment.”
Miami guard Tyler Herro missed his third straight game with a strained groin. Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Max Strus (hamstring) and PJ Tucker (knee) had been listed as questionable but were in the starting lineup.