Had last night’s game happened a few days prior, there could have been a friendly wager between Derrick White and Trae Young: whoever wins their matchup gets to be an All-Star replacement for the East. Alas, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had already named Young and Scottie Barnes alternates for Joel Embiid and Julius Randle, but in Wednesday’s showdown, White got the better of Young.
Young had been on a heater of late, averaging 29.6 points on 57% shooting from behind the arc and nearly 12 assists a night over the last five games (4-1). And then he face DWhite and the second best defense in the NBA.
Young scored 20 points (8-of-25 from the field, 2-for-10 from 3) with 10 assists and four turnovers. In the second half, he was held to just 5 points.
Just like in last year’s first round series, White and the Celtics have tried to stay home on Young without double-teaming him or forcing the ball out of his hands. That’s meant playing in drop coverage for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that they just give him space in the mid-range. Unfortunately for Young and the rest of the league’s point guards, Boston’s primary point of attack defenders are Jrue Holiday (who sat out against the Hawks with an elbow strain) and White, the league leader in blocks for guards.
White doesn’t have a particular freakish wingspan — he’s 6’5 with a 6’8 reach — but he makes up for it in relentless pursuit, preternatural instincts, and perfect timing. The spectre of White is enough to scare any All-Star. He seems to always be an arms-length away and right when you think you’ve created enough space for a shot, White’s on you like, well, white on rice.
And for what it’s worth, White finished with 21 points and seven assists, including four threes during a 16-5 run in the fourth quarter to pull away.
It’s also worth noting that it wasn’t just White checking Young. Per Second Spectrum’s player tracking, Jaylen Brown also played a large part in Young’s lowest scoring output in his last eight games. Over 35 possessions and 47% of the time, White held Young to 2-for-7 shooting; not to be outdone, Brown checked Young for 19 possessions for 24% of his playing time and Young hit just 1-of-7 against him.
Of course, another part of wearing down Young isn’t just on the defensive end. To play against Young and be successful is to also attack him on offense. For as many pick-and-rolls as the Hawks put him in, opposing teams have to do the same when Young has to defend.
“To be honest we were just kind of in the flow of the game. We tried to, of course, attack Trae a bit more, look for him, put him in some situations and take advantage of those mismatches,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “And he was guarding D-White which was already a tough task for him. And then on top of that we put him into actions and pick and rolls and he has to switch and it just puts them at a disadvantage.”
As an exercise of comparison, here’s Young trailing White in a pick-and-roll. Because Young is so small and, well, not a great defender, Onyeka Okongwu is forced to try and defend White coming off the pick and Luke Kornet attacking the basket. Young isn’t nearly as attached as White was in the prior clip and provides little resistance. White’s timing on the lob to Kornet is as good as his timing on a shot contest.
For White to make the All-Star Game now, another player would have to suffer an injury; Jalen Brunson did leave Tuesday’s win over the Grizzlies with a sprained ankle, but it doesn’t look serious enough to keep him out of Indianapolis next weekend. However, if the Celtics win over the Hawks was any indication, White has the advantage in the head-to-head battle.