The ending of Game 6 of the 2023 Eastern Conference finals may be remembered for Derrick White's incredible game-winning putback, but the sequence that came before it may ultimately have swung the outcome. On Miami's final possession, Jimmy Butler tried to create a game-tying or game-winning shot with the Heat trailing 102-100 and was fouled by Al Horford in the process. This moment was controversial for four separate reasons:
- Jimmy Butler picked up his dribble, but eventually started dribbling again. That could have led to a double-dribble call.
- Horford's foul was initially called on the shot and inside of the 3-point line, but replay showed that Butler was clearly behind it.
- Miami was in the bonus, so if the foul had come before the shot attempt, Butler's placement wouldn't have mattered. The Heat would have gotten two free throws on a non-shooting foul.
- The clock initially showed 2.1 seconds left after the whistle. After review, the officials put three seconds on the clock. This proved pivotal as White's tip-in came with 0.1 seconds left.
All of this was ultimately settled when Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged the call. Butler was fouled in his shooting motion and awarded three free throws, and 0.9 seconds were ultimately added to the clock. No double-dribble was called. But fans on both sides of the play felt that the officials mishandled elements of the play.
The league ultimately disagreed. It released its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6 on Sunday, and found that the officials made the correct call on every element of the sequence. Butler was not called for a double-dribble because he fumbled the ball. The replay officials correctly concluded that the foul was committed with three seconds remaining and that it was, in fact, a three-point shooting foul.
The league did find two incorrect calls in the last two minutes, though. With 61 seconds remaining, Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown's missed free throw. Butler rebounded that miss, but Brown should have gotten another chance due to the lane violation. With 33 seconds left, Jayson Tatum stumbled on a layup attempt and was blocked by Gabe Vincent. The NBA found that Vincent should have been called for a foul on that block. That would have sent Tatum to the line with a chance to give Boston a three-point lead.
In the end, the Celtics escaped with the victory despite those two missed calls working against them. The officials may have missed on those two critical moments, but they seemingly handled the most important play of the night correctly. That's not ideal, but the league can breathe a sigh of relief that the correct team ultimately won the game.