BOSTON: Jimmy Butler had 47 points, nine rebounds and eight assists and the Miami 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 had 45 points in Boston to help the Heat avoid Game 6 elimination en route to the first of their 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 Sunday, 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 a Game 7 in front of our home crowd.”
In the most back-and-forth game of the series, Boston took a 97-94 lead on Derrick White’s 3-pointer with under five minutes to play — the first time all series the lead has changed hands in the fourth quarter. Kyle Lowry answered with a 3 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, hitting 4 of 8 from 3-point range and all 11 free throws.
“Matching his intensity from the start wasn’t there,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Understanding that he was going to put it on his shoulders, and we didn’t match it.”
Jayson Tatum had 30 points and nine rebounds and Derrick White came off the bench to score 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter for Boston. The Celtics are trying to reach the finals for the first time since 2010.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, 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, costing the team its No. 2 scorer. Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Max Strus (hamstring) and P.J. Tucker (knee) had been listed as questionable but were in the starting lineup.
Boston’s Marcus Smart (sprained right ankle) and Robert Williams III (sore knee) tested their injuries pregame and were also in the lineup.
Heat: Butler had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists in the first. He scored or assisted on 24 of Miami’s 29 points in the quarter.
Celtics: Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who was inducted into the ballclub’s Hall of Fame on Thursday night, was courtside. Ortiz threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park earlier in the evening. Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez was also at the game, wearing his World Series ring.