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Derrick White: unsung hero to forever hero

He’s always had hero habits, and now he has his hero moment.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler and Derrick White battle for a rebound in the third quarter of Game 6 on Saturday.
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the thing about Derrick White: it could have been a pickup game in the backyard; it could have been at the end of a long practice; it could have been a road game in Detroit in January.

White would have been there. Hustling, filling in the gaps, making the right play. He has hero habits, a hero work ethic and a hero mindset.

When people talk about White’s legacy decades from now, they’ll reminisce about this play – as they should – but it’s important to also remember that it didn’t come out of nowhere.

After living in the shadows as an unsung hero his entire basketball career, White is now the hero he deserves to be. Sometimes it takes an instant classic like this to help us all realize that the hero was there all along.

White’s winning layup as time expired lifted the Celtics to a magical, 104-103, season-saving triumph over the Heat in Game 6 on Saturday. It was a poetic moment for a player who makes a living off being in the right place at the right time.

“When he shot it, I just tried to crash,” White said. “Ball came to me, and I made the shot.”

It’s OK to show a little excitement, man. Even after hitting one of the most dramatic shots in NBA history, White was levelheaded, poised and grounded. He’s never too high, never too low, and always trying to make the right play. He knows Game 7 is on the horizon.

There’s a reason he blossomed from Division II to the NBA. There’s a reason Gregg Popovich loves this guy. There’s a reason Brad Stevens brought him to Boston.

With Jayson Tatum’s hot-and-cold shooting, Jaylen Brown’s inconsistent dribbling and Malcolm Brogdon’s injury, White has served as the stabilizer the Celtics have desperately needed.

“If you don’t know who D-White is, you know who he is now,” Marcus Smart said. “That dude has been phenomenal for us this whole, whole year.”

White is averaging 13.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 steals and 0.7 turnovers while shooting 53.8 percent from the floor and 55.3 percent from 3-point range this series.

He has a similar calming presence to Patriots great James White, where it’s easy to take him for granted until he gives you no choice when he comes up with the biggest play of the season.

White did exactly what they teach you in biddy basketball. When a shot goes up, crash the glass, keep hustling and make something happen. He executed a fundamentally sound play to perfection in the most critical moment of all. Sometimes something so simple can carry so much significance.

“Derrick White, like a flash of lighting, just came out of nowhere and saved the day, man,” Jaylen Brown said. “It was just an incredible play.”

Fans who watch the Celtics religiously already knew that White was the glue. Now the casual fan realizes it as well.

It was fitting that it came on a gritty, sneaky play like this one. A step-back 3 would have been glorious in its own way, but this one seemed more like a Derrick White winner.

Havlicek stole the ball, and White stole the game. Now they need one more, to ensure it’s not for nothing.

“I’m still like in disbelief,” Tatum said. “That s*** was crazy.”

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