The Boston Celtics kept their season alive in miraculous fashion on Saturday night with a last-second tip-in from Derrick White to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, 104-103. After falling down 3-0 to the Miami Heat, they have evened the series at 3-3 and forced a Game 7 back in Boston on Monday.
While White's heroic shot will get most of the attention over the next few days, and for good reason, eagle-eyed slueths on social media have started asking questions about the end of the game. Including: was there too much time put back on the clock after Jimmy Butler was fouled in the waning seconds? And did Butler get away with a double-dribble before he was fouled?
It's a strange situation where fans from both teams have a case to feel cheated and lucky at the same time. Let's break it down.
First, let's set the stage pre-White shot. The Celtics were clinging to a two-point lead with less than 20 seconds to play, and the Heat had the ball. Butler, as expected, took control of the situation and tried to make a play. It appeared, however, that he was about to run out of time and was on the verge of launching up a prayer when he was fouled by Al Horford.
The Celtics challenged the call out of desperation, but it was clearly a foul on Horford, so that was upheld. However, the refs did make a few adjustments after going to the monitor. First of all, they realized both of Butler's feet were behind the 3-point line at the time of contact, giving him three free throws instead of two. In addition, they reset the clock from 2.1 seconds to 3.0 seconds.
Butler made all three free throws to give the Heat a 103-102 lead, but the Celtics still had three seconds to attempt a game-winner. They inbounded the ball to Marcus Smart after the initial action was blown up by the Heat, and Smart quickly fired the ball at the rim. His shot almost went in, but it popped out right next to the rim, and White was right there to deftly flip it up and in at the buzzer. White did so just in time, releasing the ball with 0.1 seconds remaining.
This is where we go back to the officials' decision to put three seconds on the clock. When you go frame by frame, Horford still hasn't made contact at 3.0 and it appears the foul doesn't happen until 2.8 seconds left. It's unclear if the refs had a different angle, but it seems as though it should have been reset to 2.8 seconds. That, of course, would have meant that White's tip-in came after the buzzer.
However, if you rewind just a bit further, there's a case that Butler actually double-dribbled before the foul took place and should not have been rewarded with the free throws in the first place. As Butler goes to gather for a shot, he loses control of his dribble and grabs the ball with both hands. He then begins dribbling again, which is not allowed. Perhaps you could interpret that as a bobble, but that would be generous to the Heat star.
So were the Heat robbed by the extra time put back on the clock? Or were the Celtics unfortunate to even be trailing at that point in the first place? If Butler is called for a double-dribble, they have the ball up by two with a few seconds to play and a chance to ice it at the free throw line.
This is all academic, because none of these moments can be overturned after the game, but the league's Last 2 Minute report for this game is certainly going to be a major talking point ahead of Game 7.