BOSTON – Arriving in the Game 5 arena, Derek White received a familiar text. It was four letters – DTBG – and he knew exactly what it meant.
These are the letters he wears on his wrist every day, the same letter he has heard every time he takes the word since he was eight years old. A message from his father.
Dare to be great.
For many players, that means putting up points, blocking shots, or putting up special performances. But Richard White taught his son to care about only one thing.
“the win. The elder White said he just wanted to win and hated losing the athlete. “Whether you’re playing cards or something else, he just hates losing.”
The younger White did not seek the spotlight. He got away from her. When the All-Defense team played second-team earlier in this playoff run, he effectively ran out of praise.
The individual award almost makes him feel uncomfortable. Catching a shot himself makes him weary. His teammates and coaches spent the year telling him he had better be aggressive on both ends of the ball or there would be problems.
But White was always used to taking what was given to him and quietly earning more. When he first arrived at Division II University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, he was redshirted despite his wishes.
“We didn’t smell anything bad about it like, ‘Why is he redshirting when he’s better than these guys?'” Richard said. “Derek told us that drills are his game and he played those drills hard and beat the other guys constantly, day in and day out. The coach said, “We’re pulling the redshirt off. We can’t stop him so we’ll use him as a start.”
Nearly a decade later, he took the same approach to join the Celtics. They were traded for him at the 2022 deadline as they were soaring and he was key in the NBA Finals. But he had to find his way to becoming that crucial piece.
I got the Celtics and did the same thing. I just want to fit in,” said Richard. I just want to fit in.” “He could be a good fit, but the Celtics took the leap this year because he did more than just fit. So once he figures out how to inject himself, that raises the bar for him and the team.”
The Celtics needed White to include themselves in the series, which now rests at 3-2 after Boston beat Miami 110-97 in Game 5 on Thursday. Especially after Malcolm Brogdon left the game with soreness in his right forearm due to a partially torn tendon, the Celtics were losing one of their key defenders to Jimmy Butler.
Then Wyatt helped stop him. White shot 6-of-8 from deep for a game-high 24 points after the Celtics spent the first 3.5 games of the series cold. He and Marcus Smart began to break fast frequently and defended every inch of the ground. White wasn’t just appropriate, he was taking over.
“It’s a long streak, and you’re going to need big games from different guys at different points in the series. That’s why it’s a team sport,” said Jason Tatum. “You need everyone at some point to come out strong, and Smart and D-White are the reason We win tonight.”
White’s father remembered when his son won the Eastern Conference Player of the Year award in February when the Celtics half-season was out and he started raining 3 seconds and scoring at will.
It was an inspiring moment that a team could count on White to do anything they asked of him, as Boston did to turn the momentum of this series around in Game 5. But it was also a reminder of how the Celtics were at their best when he was a perfectly machined cog in a bigger engine.
“I don’t know if you said this to Derek or anything, but if Derek is the fourth or fifth best player on your team, your team will be very good because I trust you know what Derek is going to go for,” Richard said.
Such is the balance this Celtics team has found as it reaches the halfway point of what could be the biggest comeback in NBA history. Jays runs the offense, Marcus Smart sets the agenda, and White executes. The Heat managed to outpace the Celtics from the court with one try in Game 5, but this game wasn’t even close thanks to White’s 24 points and all-out defense.
“Big player, big shots tonight. D-White came ready to play,” said Jaylen Brown. “As soon as they gave him anywhere, he let him fly, and the heat came from downtown. Not just on offense but on defense. His aggressiveness is key. They try to put him in games sometimes, his ability to be able to block shots, and chase players off shooters.” Guarding the MVP, coming up with a transition, that’s the greatest opportunity. That’s really key for our team.”
Game Four began the shift in how the Celtics executed the defense, going into an all-out pressure with intense assist rotations to cover each other. The game plan was the hard shutdown from the start, but it took until the second half to implement it and the series was completely flipped. Miami lost its dangerous shooting tempo, Butler no longer got a clear as often as he wanted, and the Boston offense was living in transition.
Solidifying his place in the lineup Grant Williams gave Boston a great rotation that would fly to pitchers, tackle the switches on Butler, and still fight on the boxes to start rushing breaks. But that physical strength wouldn’t turn into anything without White and Smart digging hard into the ball and getting hands in passing lanes to disrupt the Heat’s offense.
“I’ll go play on Jimmy and then he’ll run off Jimmy all the way across the court to stop a shot,” said Grant Williams. the athlete. “So he’s driving that and also really smart and all of our guys are really, so we have to feed off their energy. It was really crucial for us to come back in the series.”
The Heat reminds him of the Warriors, Brown said, with the way they run off screens, find passerby pockets, and move shooters, so that you’re always confused about which direction the play is going.
“You can’t blink because they’re going to move, you lose the shooter for 3, so you have to be disciplined,” Brown said. “You gotta be sound, you gotta chase those guys ’cause they’re going to be running all night. You gotta bring your trail shoes.”
This is where White’s discipline, perseverance, and drive lift this team up. He does everything from chasing Duncan Robinson across a screen, moving to Bam Adebayo and taking him off the spot, or locking Butler up to force him to give up the ball and then denying a pass so the Heat have to go elsewhere.
“He’s been turning around big (on defense). He’s playing with a tremendous effort,” Williams said. “He’s going to look for Jimmy and then the next thing you know, he’s going to run and chase Duncan Robinson from six screens. So I do my best to do the same. But then Duncan scored on that one possession. So I don’t necessarily have the same thing as Derek, but at least he does.”
Smart is the free safety that sits and directs traffic. Brown presses the ball as Tatum takes out Butler, but it’s White who tries to steer it all 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, and the things we try to do on the defensive side. He’s a very smart basketball player on both ends, and he showed his awareness and his instincts tonight.”
The Celtics are fully operational again. Their backs are still against the wall, but they’re running back in Miami more than ever. They play with confidence and communication at the highest level they have shown since they got together.
“We have a group of strong, determined guys that I know I can count on,” said Tatum. “I know I’ll look left and right when it seems all hope is lost, when the match is on the line, our backs are against the wall, and everyone’s going to fight and give everything they’ve got. We still have a chance, that anything can happen.”
In the end, all that matters to the whites is winning. Points are fine, but the score is all that matters.
So when a father texted his son to be great every day, there was only one thing for Derek to say. It wasn’t just about tonight. It’s been about the rest of this series, and after that, hopefully the Celtics can do better next.
It was about being his best every single day.
“He said, ‘I got you,'” said Richard White. “Well, we’ll see if he gets me.”
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(Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
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