With 9:38 left in the fourth quarter, the Boston Celtics were up by seven points. But a Paul Reed free-throw, a strip-and-steal transition bucket by Jaden Springer, and a Payton Pritchard missed layup leading to a De’Anthony Melton corner three brought the Philadelphia 76ers all the way back to within one — all in the span of 57 seconds.
The entire mood of the Wells Fargo Center shifted. Springer’s steal on Tatum and ensuing dunk got them hyped. Pritchard’s missed layup increased the energy even more. And Melton’s three blew the roof off the building.
But then Derrick White happened.
“I thought about calling timeout, but he had the ball in his hands, and I felt like we could run a good set, we could kind of calm it down with execution, and he did that,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said of White post-game.
White brought the ball up the court, but it got back to him after a couple of passes, and he cashed a three. After a Tobias Harris miss, White got the rock again, and this time, he ran a pick-n-roll with Luke Kornet, freeing up space for him to nail a floater in the lane.
Then, after White swatted a weak Tyrese Maxey layup attempt (that didn’t count as a block) and Reed got the put-back, the Celtics guard waltzed down the other end, went right back to the pick-n-roll with Kornet in the same spot, and helped the big man get to the stripe.
“His pick-n-roll efficiency is sky-high,” said Mazzulla. “And when we can get him into those pick-n-rolls, especially going to his right hand, it’s a good effective play for us.”
White finished the fourth quarter with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor, 2-of-4 shooting from deep, and 4-of-4 shooting from the charity stripe.
Mazzulla said that he didn’t have to tell White to calm things down and lead the charge because the Celtics point guard already knows what to do in those situations.
“He drew up the first play for me, then after that, he kind of just said, ‘Stay aggressive,’” White said. “I was able to get to my spots and make the right play. I wouldn’t say my mindset changes that much [with others out], but I just try to be aggressive, like I always say, and make the right play.”
Boston was missing Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis against the 76ers - two of their three top scorers - and needed some guys to step up.
Jrue Holiday helped lead the charge in the first quarter, Al Horford showed up on both ends of the court in a starting role, and Jayson Tatum played his usual game, picking apart the 76ers’ defense when the offense rolled through him.
But it was White who came to the Celtics’ rescue when it mattered most. Just as Boston was fumbling away their lead, he took over, controlled the pace, and steadied the ship.
Just as the team knew he would.