BOSTON – It took some convincing to get Derrick White here. When he arrived in Boston, his motor skills and instincts immediately showed why it was worth paying a significant price for an actor.
But he was mostly just a glue guy. It wasn’t enough.
His teammates and coaches wanted more. So they started calling out to him publicly, saying they needed him to find his own luck. Eventually it grew, with their huge Game 5 in the conference finals keeping their season alive last year. Then he scored the takedown in game six to put them on the brink of history, only to narrowly fall short.
He was taking the big shots usually reserved for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and they kept pushing him for more.
“Hearing some of the best players in the league say they want you to be aggressive, that obviously gives you confidence and Joe (Mazzulla) has given me confidence from the moment he stepped into the head coaching position,” White said after typing. a 119-111 victory over the Miami Heat. “It all comes together and I just have to go out there and be aggressive.”
The only conclusion we can draw from this Boston Celtics’ debut this season is that White’s rise is here to stay. It was no coincidence. He’s evolved enough that the line between him and the Celtics’ four stars is blurred on a nightly basis.
Perhaps the simplest definition of a star is someone who can deliver when their team needs them to, no matter how often or for how long. White doesn’t have the skill levels that make this team’s current or former All-Stars great (there are five). But he continues to show up when and where they count on him.
“He has the humility to do what’s best for the team, and when his number is called, he shows up regardless of what happened,” Mazzulla said. “It’s important to us.
“We talked about sacrifice, but for Derrick to be able to play with that type of feeling of empowerment, everyone has to be able to do that,” Mazzulla continued. “We’re not going to replicate that every night, but what we saw was every guy was at their best and playing together. And the more we can replicate that, the more we can maximize that.
Even though White’s scoring transformed his value to this team, he always had a calling card that made him special. He is not only one of the most technically sound defenders of his generation – a defender who can control the flow of the ball in difficult spaces through pure angle and pressure. It’s the fact that he’s not just a shot-blocking guard, but a straight-up shot blocker that makes few plays — with the exception of Jrue Holiday, of course — able to succeed.
“The plays he played tonight were sick. They were just sick plays,” Mazzulla said. “As if there was no other word to describe them. That’s exactly what he does.
It was just a sick game from this guy. White joined Tatum as the only Celtics to have 25 points with at least five 3s in a home opener, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The distinction that he did it by hitting five 3s is something of a contemporary misnomer since so many records are broken these days simply because everyone shoots more 3s. But This guys? White was a mediocre shooter when he came to the Celtics. Now he’s the one who wants to shoot.
What a night for Derrick White! He scored 14 of his team’s 28 points in the 4th quarter, to help the Celtics to a 119-111 victory over the Heat. White also became the second player in Celtics history with 25 points and 5 3-point FGs in a home opener, joining Jayson Tatum in 2020. pic.twitter.com/JG5rdJW03r
– ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 28, 2023
“D White is coming into his own,” Brown said. “He is establishing himself as a leader. You can hear it a little more in his voice. He’s organizing us on that, trying to figure out where to get the ball to guys, trying to keep the flow and organization going. And once again, D White has achieved many milestones.
In the season opener, it was Tatum and Kristaps Porziņģis. Friday night? It was White and Brown. Around the edges, Holiday was everywhere.
Brad Stevens and Mazzulla’s “Top Six” bet will have to stand the test of time. When everyone is fresh and healthy, this team undeniably looks like a world champion. They had two tough games early in the year, then came out at the crunch time to win it.
Holiday hasn’t even figured out how to make an impact on offense yet. There is even more to discover and develop with this team. Some nights, different guys will be called into action. Not everyone is going to feast every night, but they will all be able to eat all season long if they do it right.
“It’s going to be like this. We all need to be comfortable with that,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a challenge. But teams are going to guard in different ways – give us different looks. We have a lot of talent. So we let the game decide tonight.
Everyone in the Celtics starting five played a crucial role at multiple points in the game. Although Brown and White ultimately prevailed on offense, Tatum and Porziņģis had big moments early on. Holiday’s defense has once again been impressive in many ways, and he’s still looking to fit in on both ends.
There is a harmony in this team that sometimes seems disjointed but eventually comes together.
“The balanced attack that we had throughout the game is kind of the epitome of what our team can be when we play together,” Mazzulla said. “When every guy is playing the best version of them and one guy isn’t having it, the next guy steps up.”
A factor in the offseason moves was to prepare for Tatum and Brown’s bonuses. Tatum has had near-impeccable health over the course of his career, while Brown has suffered a few significant injuries and generally dealt with nagging issues.
Especially as their games become more physical as they mature, their bodies are going to pay the price, and durability and fatigue may soon be a major obstacle for this franchise. They needed help so they didn’t have to carry the entire program on their backs every night.
This could divide two guys who make their money by scoring. But they both seem not relieved, but seduced by what this freedom can mean.
“I’m extremely excited,” Tatum said. “It’s a long season and every night there’s going to be different guys at certain times, and I think that’s really going to help us in the long run.”
So they made big plays on defense and on the glass. Brown even iced the game by boxing Kevin Love, among others, for a rebound. The more decisions and shots White, Holiday and Porziņģis can make down the stretch, the more the franchise’s centerpieces can take advantage of the little things.
“When your best players care about defense, you have a chance to be a good team,” Mazzulla said. “We don’t play perfect basketball, but we play physical basketball and we try to work together. And these two things are the most important.
With all this talent, the Celtics can take their foot off the gas and just make shots. But they learned time and time again over the years that it ultimately wouldn’t work. There is always someone who is hot at the right time and will outdo them if they let it. By someone, obviously, we’re talking about the Heat.
The Celtics simply won’t win on shooting. It must be more. It must be hard. It must be exhausting. White people can do that. He can make some sick plays.
But he’s making sure the Jays can do it for him – and they want him to. This team is still a diamond in the rough and they are the ones who are going to give it that shine.
“I’m looking forward to the job,” Brown said. “I’m looking forward to the blood, sweat and tears, and we’ll figure this out.”
(Top photo by Derrick White: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)