2023 NBA Playoffs

Forsberg: Behind the scenes of White's season-saving buzzer-beater

Chris Forsberg was on scene in Miami for one of the wildest finishes in NBA postseason history.

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MIAMI -- Forty-five minutes after Derrick White’s improbable put-back to save the Boston Celtics’ season and deliver the team to the doorstep of history, Jayson Tatum stood up from his stall in a near-empty visitors locker room at the Kaseya Center, still trying to process what just went down.

"What the f---?" Tatum announced to no one in particular with a huge smile on his face. He shook his head and repeated it again on his way to shower.

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Before that, Tatum was just like you. He sat slack-jawed in his chair while scrolling through social media, eating up all the reaction to White’s buzzer-beating put-back. Tatum texted, he made a call, he couldn’t stop laughing. Tatum beamed while Blake Griffin stood in the middle of the locker room, showing a replay of White’s game-winner while the night’s hero peeked over his shoulder.

"Point one!" exclaimed Griffin while stopping the video at White’s release with 0.1 points showing on the clock.

Outside Boston’s locker room, a group of glowing assistant coaches were making their way to the buses when they spotted a recap of the final moments playing on a tiny 24-inch monitor. They all gathered around and watched with wonderment again as White swooped in to save the season.

Even when Tatum finally made his way to the interview room -- the last Celtics player of the night to offer his assessment of how Boston had rallied from an 0-3 series deficit to force a Game 7 on Monday night -- he still couldn’t quite process it all.

"I'm still like in disbelief," said Tatum. "That s--- was crazy."

Tatum actually had the best seat in the house for White’s winner. He had crashed from the opposite side of the basket after Marcus Smart’s quick heave rattled out. The ball bounced directly to White, who calmly laid it back in.

Usually in those moments, everyone in the building has a good feel for whether a player got the shot off in time. Some Miami fans celebrated for an instant as Celtics players pleaded with referees to count it. A replay soon appeared on the JumboTron and cheers erupted again -- only this time it was from the large contingent of Celtics fans behind the home bench who realized that White had indeed beaten the clock.

When the referees finally made it official, Robert Williams III scooped up White and practically threw him into the first row near Boston's bench. Teammates swarmed to celebrate together.

"Listen, I'll tell you one thing, man, if you don’t know who D-White is, you know who he is now," said a jubilant Smart. "I mean, that dude has been phenomenal for us this whole, whole year."

Here’s two things we can’t stop thinking about in the aftermath:

  1. If Malcolm Brogdon is healthy, is White even on the floor in that moment? In two other close games in this series, White had played a mere 12 seconds of crunch-time ball. White’s limited crunch-time play had been a storyline for much of the season. But in the biggest moment, there he was saving the Celtics.
  2. Smart’s decision to go quick with the shot gave White the chance to get a put-back. In the delirious aftermath, Celtics players couldn’t remember if anyone had implored them to go quick in the huddle. But Smart said he remembered the Philadelphia series and how Boston didn’t give themselves a chance at a put-back in that gut-punch Game 4 loss.

The emotional swings at the end of this game left everyone with whiplash. The Celtics were up double digits with just over four minutes to go, and Jimmy Butler looked hell-bent on ripping their hearts out. A late challenge initially backfired on Boston, as Butler was awarded three free throws to put the Heat up by one. But the review added extra time to the clock, and Boston needed every bit of it.

"Man, unbelievable. So many emotions, so many feelings," said Al Horford. "I just felt like, the whole time, our will, we just believed that we were going to get it done. I don’t know, we didn't know how it was going to be …

"This is how special teams, championship teams throughout [title] runs, you’re going to go through a situation like this. This was big for us."

Horford and the rest of the Celtics know there is still work to do. Boston has to come home and win Game 7 in order to be the first of 151 teams to rally from an 0-3 hole. A trip back to the Finals and a chance to really carve out a slice of history is on the line.

"[Game 6] means nothing if we come and lay an egg on our home floor," said Jaylen Brown. "Still focused but excited that we came here and did what we said we was going to do."

White’s put-back eventually could enter a rare pantheon of playoff moments. The Celtics noted that White’s buzzer-beater was only the second in NBA history by a player whose team was facing elimination and trailing at the time of the shot. The other? Michael Jordan’s "The Shot," against the Cavaliers in 1989 that gets replayed roughly a billion times per year.

If the Celtics are the first team to rally out of an 0-3 hole, it will add that much more gravity to White’s moment. If Boston goes on to win Banner 18, there will eventually be a statue of White and his put-back somewhere in the city. White’s moment feels an awful lot like Dave Roberts' steal in Game 4 of the 2004 American League championship series as the Red Sox rallied from 0-3 to beat the rival Yankees.

Somehow, both teams have to move on from Game 6. Game 7s are usually weird. But one thing is undeniable: The Garden is going to be electric. Players were already glowing about White’s winner and then they started thinking about what comes next.

"I can't wait. I can't wait," said Horford. "It’s gonna be electric from before, throughout, after. So I'm just really excited to have that opportunity."

Added Smart: "Wooo! It's going to be like the 4th of July. Fireworks, going crazy. So we're excited and we're ready."

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