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Derrick White’s offensive masterclass gives Celtics major boost in Game 5 win

Boston’s All-Defense guard played a huge part in the Celtics 110-97 win over the Miami Heat to send the series to Game 6.

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night, the Boston Celtics continued to defy the odds in their 110-97 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 at TD Garden. With the series now sitting at 3-2 heading back to Miami for Game 6, the Celtics are in the same situation they were in last series against Philadelphia: win Game 6 to bring it back home to Boston for a winner-take-all matchup. Boston’s intensity on defense has now won them back-to-back games, but on top of that, the team is getting more out of their supporting cast on offense.

With Malcolm Brogdon battling a torn tendon in his right forearm and leaving Game 5 early, Derrick White stepped up bigtime, playing aggressively on both sides of the ball and fearlessly shooting from deep, finishing the night with a team-high 24 points on a scorching 8-of-11 from the field, including 6-of-8 from beyond the arc, three rebounds, an assist and two steals. White didn’t hesitate to take any shots, and with his teammates consistently finding him on the perimeter, he was a quick and deadly trigger, hitting shot after shot.

“I think just having that defensive mindset,” White said of what fueled Boston’s offensive explosion. “We were able to get stops, which allowed us to get out and run and get good looks. So, we gotta have that mindset for the rest of the series.” Boston only totaled 9 turnovers on the night along with 13 steals, and forced Miami into 16 turnovers. Miami tied the game only twice early in the first quarter, but after that point, the Celtics were in complete control with the Heat never taking back the lead.

“They’ve got a lot of focus on JB and JT,” said White. “So it’s empowering me to shoot when I’m open and I was able to find some openings and knock them down.” After struggling with Miami’s zone defense — a specter of the 2020 bubble — Boston has seemed to have shaken off their demons by continuing to move the ball and attack with decisiveness. Aggressive play and knocking down open looks has put holes in Miami’s troublesome defense, and once that ship started leaking, the floodgates soon opened up.

“We gotta do whatever it takes to get a win,” said White on the Celtics defense and his role in it. “That’s a big side of the ball. Whenever I’m in the action, which I’m in the action a lot of times, so I gotta step up and get stops.” The All-Defense 2nd Team guard struggled with defending Jimmy Butler in particular through the first three games, but as the team has turned a corner, so has Derrick White.

Boston struggled from beyond the arc early in the series as well, sparking a frequent a common criticism during the regular season: what do the Celtics do when the threes aren’t falling for them? Beyond the timeout rhetoric, Boston’s reliance on the three-ball was a major critique of Joe Mazzulla’s coaching philosophy. It’s no surprise, but when the Celtics hit at least 18 three pointers, their record is 31-6. For Game 5, the Celtics shot an efficient 16-of-39 (41%) from beyond the arc. Miami shot 51.3% from the field and 39.1% from three, and it didn’t make a bit of difference in the final score.

“I think we just consistently got good looks today,” said White on the team’s shooting. “We were able to get out and run and make that extra pass, and when you get looks like that with the shooters we have, we’re gonna make them more than miss. So just continue to make that extra pass and find the right guy.”

Since Game 4, there’s been a massive shift in the energy of this team and their approach on both offense and defense, with a return to selfless basketball after coming face-to-face with elimination. Whatever rumors and whispers some NBA pundits were pedaling have been silenced by the response of this unit as a collective, with their eyes on that one goal.

“We’ve got a lot of love for each other, top to bottom,” said White. “We are out there competing. We know it’s a long way to go and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s always fun competing with the guys in our locker room.”

A deficit of 3-0 seems insurmountable, but now it doesn’t matter. What came before Game 4 or even Game 5 is no longer relevant. It’s a 3-2 series, and with the season still on the line, look for the Celtics to come out guns blazing on Saturday night. Confidence and belief are the bedrock of every comeback story, and for the Boston Celtics, their story is no different.

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