ESPN spent part of Friday previewing a Celtics-Warriors NBA Finals.
In the words of another ESPN personality (Lee Corso), “not so fast, my friend.”
The Heat season remains alive tonight because Jimmy Butler was Jordanesque, P.J. Tucker was a difference-maker and the Heat’s backcourt finally came to life.
Butler’s magical 47-point night carried the Heat to a 111-103 Game 6 win in Boston, sending the Eastern Conference Finals to a deciding seventh game on Sunday night in Miami (8:30 p.m., ESPN).
“Everybody thought this series was already over,” Bam Adebayo said. “That’s all the motivation we needed.”
Butler was stupendous, scoring 17 of the Heat’s 29 fourth quarter points.
“Jimmy brought his competitive will tonight and it was a will that would not let us lose,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is the way it should be. It should have gone seven games.”
The Heat finished 24 for 25 from the free throw line and shot 42.9 percent (15 of 35) on threes.
After delivering duds in Games 4 and 5, the Heat surged ahead 79-66 late in the third and then 89-80 early in the fourth before Boston rallied to tie it at 94 on an Al Horford three with 5:31 left.
After Butler missed a three, Boston’s Derrick White hit a three, giving the Celtics their first lead since late in the second quarter.
But with Miami down three, Kyle Lowry tied it with a three, then put the Heat ahead with two free throws with 3:36 remaining, before Marcus Smart tied it again with two free throws.
A Bam Adebayo jumper rolled off with three minutes left, and Marcus Smart missed a three. White then stripped Lowry and Lowry subsequently fouled out with a senseless foul of Jaylen Brown with 2:18 left.
But Brown missed two free throws, and then Butler drove for a basket, drew a foul from Horford and converted the three-point play to put Miami ahead 102-99 with 2:06 to play.
P.J. Tucker then made a steal, was fouled on the possession and hit two free throws with 1:45 to go to push the lead to 104-99.
Tucker then rebounded a Horford missed three and hit one of two free throws, pushing the Heat’s lead to 105-99 with 1:25 left. Tatum cut it to 105-101 with a jumper with 1:08 remaining.
But Butler hit an incredible turnaround jumper to make it a 107-101 game with 44 seconds to go.
Two free throws from Tatum (who scored 30) cut it to 107-103, but two Butler free throws essentially sealed it with 11 seconds left.
After two poor shooting games, Butler resumed being Jimmy Brilliant, seeming less burdened by the knee injury that sidelined him in the second half of Game 3 and seemed to slow him in Games 4 and 5.
Butler was magnificent with those 47 points, plus 9 rebounds, 8 assists and four steals.
He said afterward that Dwyane Wade sent him an inspirational text before the game. “D-Wade never hits me until his voice is really really needed. And I needed it. He told me to continue to build on his legacy.”
He finished 16 of 29 from the field, 4 of 8 on three-pointers and 11 for 11 from the line.
And he kept making big shot after big shot, including a three that ended a 7-0 Boston run four-plus minutes into the fourth quarter and then the go-ahead basket and free throw shortly before the two-minute mark and then the dagger turnaround jumper with 44 seconds left.
Lowry called Butler’s game “[bleeping] incredible. He’s one of the best players I’ve played with.”
After shooting a combined 1 for 28 over the previous two games, Lowry and Max Strus both did their part to keep the Heat alive.
Lowry - who has missed eight games in these playoffs with a hamstring injury - was a big asset for the first time in a while, producing 18 points and 10 assists (and two turnovers) after managing just three points (on 1 for 12 shooting), two assists and five turnovers in the past two games.
And Strus, such a wonderful success story this season and a hero of Game 3, finally broke out of a nightmarish shooting slump with three big threes in the third quarter, breaking a streak of 16 consecutive misses from beyond the arc.
He had gone 1 for 6 in the first half, following 0 for 7 and 0 for 9 shooting games on Monday and Wednesday. He scored 11 of his 13 in the third quarter.
Tucker battled through foul trouble to make his usual imprint defensively and scored 11 points.
But Bam Adebayo once again was too passive on a 6-point night, attempting just two shots - and not even looking at the rim - before dunking twice off nifty passes late in the first half.
For the fourth time in six games, he finished with fewer than 12 points. He attempted just six shots.
In Adebayo’s defense, he set excellent screens and had nine rebounds and the usual stout defense.
Victor Oladipo (nine points) gave the Heat a boost off the bench and was a plus 12.
But it was Butler who was largely responsible for a Heat performance that likely surprised impartial viewers.
After shooting 3 for 14 and 4 for 18 in the past two games, Butler was exceptional, producing 21 points, 9 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the first half alone.
It marked only the second time that a Heat player had at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the first half of a playoff game. Wade did it against Indiana in 2012.
He maintained that “peak Jimmy” level into the second half, scoring nine in the third and 17 in the fourth.
He became the first player in Heat franchise history to have four games with 40 or more points in a single postseason.
The Heat, which trailed 26-4 early in its previous game in Boston on Monday, opened up a 19-9 lead in Game 6 and closed the quarter ahead 29-22 behind 14 points from Butler, who scored or assisted on 24 points in the quarter.
The Celtics, capitalizing on 12 Heat first-half turnovers (including four by Adebayo and three by Caleb Martin), pulled ahead by four before a late Heat surge put Miami back up, 48-46 at the half.
Tatum and Brown each had 18 in the first half, but the other Celtics starters shot 3 for 18 in the first half.
The Heat didn’t even get to the free throw line until midway through the second quarter, while Boston hit all 13 of its first-half free throws without a miss.
A Smart three pointer, which drew Tucker’s fourth foul less than five minutes into the second half, had the potential to be a turning point.
Instead, Strus, Butler, Lowry and Oladipo spearheaded a 13-2 run that put the Heat ahead 12.
But after Miami extended the lead to 13, Boston ended the third on a 9-3 run to trail 82-75 after three. The Celtics eventually tied it, before Butler put the Heat ahead for good, forcing the series back to Miami for a Game 7.
“There are no two better words in sports than a Game 7,” Spoelstra said. “This is the way it should be with these two teams. It should go seven games.”
Boston made 28 of 31 free throws but shot just 11 for 33 on threes.