With 1:04 left to go in the fourth quarter of the Boston Celtics’ Tuesday night game against the Indiana Pacers, Aaron Nesmith found an open lane to the basket in transition to bring the Pacers the score to 124-127.
Nesmith’s layup was part of a 6-0 run to bring Indiana back in the game, a run that included three missed shots by the Celtics and an eight-second violation.
Then, Buddy Hield stole the ball.
He stripped Kristaps Porzingis, and the Pacers began sprinting down the floor. They had a chance to make it a one-point game or tie it with a three.
Indiana had a 3-on-2 advantage on the break as Hield drove to the corner, but Derrick White made sure he never got the chance to make a play. Rather than letting the Pacers get a shot in rhythm, he fouled.
The Celtics had a foul to give, so play was stopped, and the Pacers were forced to take the ball out from the sideline.
What happened next was the most important sequence of the game. Boston’s defense locked in, refused to let Indiana get an open look, and made Nesmith take a contested three in the corner.
White swatted it out of bounds.
With 3.2 seconds left on the shot clock, the Pacers had to inbound the ball and get a shot up. Andrew Nembhard found Myles Turner in the paint, but Jayson Tatum stuffed him, leading to a 24-second violation.
Boston made two free throws at the other end, and the Pacers didn’t score for the remainder of the game, leading to a 129-124 win for the Celtics.
And it all stemmed from White’s heads-up play earlier in the possession.
“He’s a genius player,” Mazzulla said when asked about White’s intentional foul. “We’ve missed our foul-to-give call on like the last three times we tried to use it, and credit to him for recognizing that and taking advantage of it. It’s a genius play.”
White currently leads all players in clutch +/-. A seemingly inconsequential take foul doesn't seem like a big play -- his block seconds later had TD Garden rocking. But none of that happens without White's "genius."