Derrick White’s career night to extend Celtics season rooted in message from Dad
BOSTON — As he arrived at the arena for Game 5, Derrick White received a familiar text. There were four letters – DTBG – and he knew exactly what they meant.
These are the letters he carries on his wrist every day, the same message he’s heard every time he’s spoken since he was 8 years old. A message from his father.
Dare to be brilliant.
For so many players, that means scoring points, blocking shots or making key plays. But Richard White taught his son to care about only one thing.
“Winning. He just wants to win and hates to lose,” the elder White told The Athletic. “Whether you’re playing cards or whatever, he just hates losing.”
The younger White has never sought the limelight. He has left her. When he made the All-Defense second team earlier in this playoff run, he actively avoided the accolades.
The individual price almost made it unpleasant. Hunting his shot makes him tired. His teammates and coaches have spent the year telling him he better be aggressive on both sides of the ball or he’s going to be in trouble.
But White is always used to taking what he is given and quietly winning more. When he first arrived at Division II University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, he was redshirted against his will.
“We haven’t made a stink about it like, ‘Why is he redshirting when he’s better than these guys?'” Richard said. “We told Derrick that practices are his game and he played them really hard and beat the other players consistently, day in and day out. The coach said: ‘We are pulling the red shirt. We can’t stop him, so we’ll use him as a starter.’
Nearly a decade later, he took the same approach by joining the Celtics. They traded for him at the 2022 deadline while they were growing, and he was key to their run to the NBA Finals. But he had to find his way to become that crucial part.
“I went to the Celtics and did the same thing. “I just want to fit in. I just want to fit in,” Richard said. “He can fit in well, but the Celtics made the leap this year because he did more than just fit in. So when he figures out how to inject himself, it raises the bar for himself and the team.”
The Celtics needed White to get themselves in this series, which now stands at 3-2 after Boston beat Miami 110-97 in Game 5 on Thursday. Especially after Malcolm Brogdon left the game due to soreness in his right forearm caused by a partially torn tendon, the Celtics were losing one of their top defenders in Jimmy Butler.
Then White helped close it. White shot 6 of 8 from deep for a game-high 24 points as the Celtics went cold through the first 3.5 games of this series. He and Marcus Smart started fast breaks repeatedly and defended every inch of the floor. White wasn’t just fitting in, he was taking over.
“It’s a long series and you’re going to need big plays from different guys at different points in a series. That’s why it’s a team sport,” Jayson Tatum said. “You need everybody at some point to come up big, and Smart and D-White are the reason we won tonight.”
White’s father recalled when his son won Eastern Conference Player of the Week in February, when half the Celtics’ rotation was out and he started raining down 3s and scoring at will.
It was a revealing moment that the team could rely on White to do whatever was asked of him, as Boston did to turn the momentum of this series in Game 5. But it was also a reminder of how the Celtics are at their best. theirs when he is a perfectly machined cog in a larger engine.
“I don’t know if I said this to Derrick or anything, but if Derrick is the fourth or fifth best player on your team, your team is going to be very good because I have confidence in knowing what he’s going to do. Derrick. bring to the table and help others do what they do,” Richard said.
That’s the balance this Celtics team has found as it’s halfway through what could be the greatest comeback in NBA history. The Jays run the offense, Marcus Smart sets the agenda and White executes. The Heat managed to beat the Celtics by one try in Game 5, but it wasn’t even close thanks to White’s 24 points and all-around defense.
“Big time player, big shots tonight. D-White was ready to play,” Jaylen Brown said. “Once they gave him space, he let it fly and got hot from under center. Not only offensively, but defensively. His aggressiveness is key. They try to put him in the game every now and then, and his ability to be able to block shots, chase guys off shooters, guard the best player, get out in transition, that’s the best shot. That’s really key for our team.”
Game 4 started the change in how the Celtics run their defense, going full pressure with wide help rotations to cover each other. The game plan was to shut down hard from the start, but it took until the second half to get it going and the series completely turned around. Miami lost its dangerous shooting pace, Butler wasn’t coming out as often as he wanted, and Boston’s offense was living in transition.
Grant Williams, cementing his spot in the lineup, gave Boston a big rotation that would go to shooters, pick up switches on Butler and still fight on box outs to start fast breaks. But that physicality wasn’t going to turn into anything without aggressively digging into the ball and getting his hands in the passing lane to disrupt Heat’s offense.
“I’ll go play Jimmy and then he’ll run by Jimmy all the way down the field to block a shot,” Grant Williams told The Athletic. “So he’s leading it and so is Smart and all our guys really are, so we’ve got to feed off their energy. He’s been really crucial to us getting back into this series.”
Brown said the Heat remind him of the Warriors with the way they run off screens, find passing pockets and move their shooters, so you’re always confused as to which way the play is going.
“You can’t close your eyes because they’re going to shift, you’re going to miss a shooter for a 3, so you have to be disciplined,” Brown said. “You’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to follow those guys because all night they’re going to be running. You should bring your track shoes.”
That’s where White’s discipline, tenacity and drive lift this team. He does everything from chasing Duncan Robinson over a screen, passing to Bam Adebayo and crashing into him from the spot, or closing down on Butler to force him off the ball and then denying the passing lane so the Heat have to go somewhere else.
“He has made a big difference (on defense). “He’s playing with tremendous effort,” Williams said. “He’ll dig over Jimmy and then the next thing you know, he’ll be running and chasing Duncan Robinson off the six screens. So I try to do the same. But then Duncan scored on that possession. So I don’t necessarily have the same thing as Derrick, but at least he has it.”
Smart is free safety when you sit and drive traffic. Brown is shooting the ball while Tatum is getting Butler out, but White is the one trying to run everything into the Celtics’ hands.
“D-White, second team all-defense this year for a reason,” Tatum said. “He’s a big part of our team, our identity, the things we try and do on the defensive end. He’s a very smart basketball player on both ends, and his awareness, his instincts, showed tonight.”
The Celtics are running at full capacity again. Their backs are still against the wall, but they’re pushing Miami harder than ever. They are playing with the highest level of confidence and connection they have shown since joining.
“We’ve got a solid, strong group of guys that I know I can count on,” Tatum said. “I know I’ll be looking to my left and right when it seems like all hope is lost, when the game is on the line, our backs are against the wall, that everyone is going to come down fighting and give it everything they’ve got. have. That’s contagious because we really—be it ignorant faith, we believe at all times that we still have a chance, that anything can happen.”
In the end, all the whites care about is winning. Points are good, but the result is all that matters.
So when the father texted his son to be great every day, Derrick had only one thing to say. It wasn’t just about this night. It was about the rest of this series and then, hopefully for the Celtics, the latest in the series.
It was about being his best every day.
“He said, ‘I got you,'” Richard White said. “Well, we’ll see if he got me.”
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(Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)