When the Boston Celtics loaded up with top-end talent this summer, an inevitable sacrifice was put into motion. Six guys capable of putting up big-time numbers and only so many shots to go around.
But with that sacrifice comes stability. Nights when one player struggles provide an opportunity for others to increase their workload. And more importantly, any player is capable of stepping into the limelight at a moment’s notice.
“Each guy plays the best version of them, and then when one guy doesn’t have it, the next guy steps up,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said after Boston’s 119-111 win against the Miami Heat on Friday night.
And on that particular night, Derrick White took center stage.
White finished the game with 28 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and three blocks while shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 5-of-7 from behind the three-point line.
His three-point shooting was crucial on a night where Boston’s offense looked stagnant at times, and the rest of the team shot a combined 11-of-32 (34.4%).
But the quantity of White’s impact was outweighed by the timing. Over and over, when the Celtics needed him most, White came through with a monster play.
“He’s a competitor, and he’s consistent, and he wants to win,” Mazzulla said. “I mean, the plays he made tonight were sick. They were just sick plays. That’s the only word that can describe it.”
The Heat were up 9-8 early in the first quarter, and Jimmy Butler leaked out in transition. White chased him down for a block.
With 3:01 to go in the second quarter and the Heat up 51-49, White drove to the hoop, found Jrue Holiday on a cut, and dished out the assist that tied the game. Jaylen Brown followed it up by stealing the inbound and slamming it home.
With 11:07 to go in the fourth quarter, Miami was leading by two. White ripped off an 8-0 run by himself to put the Celtics up by six.
With 3:44 left in the fourth quarter, Boston was up by seven, but the Heat were looking to make a push. Butler got out in transition, but once again, White tracked him down and denied his dunk attempt.
“When I was in the G League, my guy Amida Brimah, he would always get blocks, and I would always tell him that I get one a game,” White said after the game. “So ever since then, I try to just get one a game. But, [I] just do whatever I can to make it difficult for the opposing team, and I got some good blocks today.”
Each and every time the Celtics needed a pick-me-up, White was there to provide one. No matter what the situation called for - whether it be a chase down block or a clutch three - he was lying in wait to pounce.
When Boston traded for White at the deadline two years ago, he came off the bench. As the year went on, his role slowly increased, and when Robert Williams was out at the start of the 2022-23 season, White earned regular starting minutes.
Fast forward to the 2023 NBA Playoffs, and White was one of the top performers, enjoying a breakout postseason run. Now, rather than being a complementary piece to the Celtics’ new-look roster, he’s a focal point.
“I think his confidence level just continues to rise,” Jayson Tatum said post-game. “As he’s gotten more comfortable with us and in his own skin - the talent has always been there. But he’s starting to show more emotion.”
Throughout his time with the Celtics, Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the entire squad have encouraged White to be more aggressive. They know what he’s capable of, and they want him to thrive.
That’s the type of support that allow nights like White’s home opener masterclass to happen.
“Credit to those guys,” White said. “Just giving me the confidence and trusting me that I’m going to try to make the right play every single time. Hearing from some of the top guys in the league that they want you to be aggressive, it gives you confidence.”