NBA Finals 2022: How Game 1 hero Derrick White made the Celtics the most complete team in the league

NBA Finals 2022: How Game 1 hero Derrick White made the Celtics the most complete team in the league

Before the Boston Celtics were traded for Derrick White in February, they had already started changing their season. You’ve probably heard the story by now: They were 18-21 after losing a lead at Madison Square Garden in early January, then went 33-10 the rest of the way, criticizing their new coach and skeptical of their two stars. sound extremely stupid.

It wasn’t until they turned white that they became the celtics. They’ve become a team that can stop opponents even when the Defensive Player of the Year isn’t on the field. They became a team that could field lineups with no weak links defensively and be more than the sum of their parts offensively. White trade has made Boston complete.

For months, this group reminded me of the 2019 Toronto Raptors, who started five All-Defense types and were jam-packed with talent, but took the time to blend their superstar’s individual gifts into a totally cohesive offensive system. If those Celtics were those Raptors, then White would be their Marc Gasol, even though he’s seven years younger than Gasol and they play in different positions. Gasol was the addition to the trade deadline that propelled this team to the top, and while he was never the best player on the pitch, he was the one who kept everyone connected.

To extend that analogy: When Gasol, a reluctant but more than capable 3-point shooter, knocked down shots from the outside, as he did at several key moments in the playoffs, it could be demoralizing for the opposition. Every team Toronto faced in the playoffs relied on him to deny all 3 or miss them. Fifteen games into the Boston playoffs, White had shot 10 for 48 (20.8%) from behind the 3-point line, most of them wide open and on pace. In several press conferences, coach Ime Udoka stressed that White contributes positively, whether his jumper falls or not, that the Celtics all understand how he gets their ball moving, increases their pace, makes good decisions and affects the game defensively. .

Udoka was there. The white no need to shoot well to help Boston win games. But it certainly doesn’t hurt when he does. In White’s last three games, he’s shot 11 of 18 from 3-point range, including 5 of 8 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

“Obviously you have to choose where you send the attention,” Stephen Curry said after his Golden State Warriors lost 120-108 on home court. Curry credited the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum for their play, then singled out White and Al Horford for their shooting. “Those two guys are key. You hope they don’t stay so hot, but you have to do something about it as well, and we have to figure that out watching the movie tomorrow and Saturday.”

White is both a recipient and a driver of Boston’s offensive flow. To call it just a connector is to sell it short; he can initiate the attack in half court, generate easy baskets on the break, score cuts and, as the Warriors discovered, capitalize on opportunities to catch and shoot. He transformed the Celtics, however, by consistently making sound and simple plays, often after one of the stars knocked down the first domino, and ensuring that Udoka never had to compromise one end of the floor. for the other. This last game sets Boston apart from all the teams they’ve faced on their way to the Finals, and maybe Golden State as well.

“He settled in really well as soon as he got to Boston and it felt like it was automatic,” Brown said. “So we’re lucky to have him.”

“Derrick is such a smart basketball player he could fit in anywhere,” Tatum said. “I’m glad we got him.”

On Thursday, White made his first two 3-point attempts. Predictably, the Warriors didn’t run him off the line when the ball found him on the perimeter. With the exception of his latest fabrication, a belated, nonsensical bombshell on Curry, they were all clean.

“I missed my first two, but they felt good, so I stayed confident,” White said. “Team-mates and coaches have always told me to stay confident. It’s good to see that [first] one went down, and I just started rolling from there.”

White finished with 21 points and three assists and hit a game-high +25 in 32 minutes.

“He’s definitely a player who can raise his level at any time,” Brown said. “And I already knew that when I played with him at [Team] United States, but even learned more from him in the United States. It’s just a baller. Some people get up for a few moments and have the ability to just beat the scouting report and can just play hoop.”

Before hitting one of his 3s, he broke Golden State’s zone with a floater and set up Horford for a short jumper, two plays that won’t make any highlight reels:

Defensively, he spent much of his night chasing Curry and Jordan Poole. On representative possession, in terms of the effort White had to put in, he shielded Curry from the ball, momentarily dislodged, sprinted around a screen, made Curry put the ball down, chased from behind and smashed the window:

Putting White on Curry allowed the Celtics to put Marcus Smart on Draymond Green while they were both on the field together, knocking the Curry-Green pick-and-roll off the table. Things were going so well without Smart in the fourth quarter, however, that Udoka didn’t even hand over the DPOY until 3:47. Boston continued a historic run and held the Warriors to 13 points in the final frame before a meaningless 3 in time.

After his third completion from behind the arc, White had Poole bite on a fake push, then drove the baseline, put Andrew Wiggins in the air and got a pair of free throws:

He created a corner 3 for Brown (pass!), a 3 over the break for Horford (hockey pass!) and an extremely open 3 for Payton Pritchard (a power hockey pass!) by applying pressure on the rim:

The Celtics changed more as the game progressed, which, combined with their extinguished shots, made it difficult for Golden State to find any semblance of fluidity in the fourth quarter. Up six on the stretch, White took his position against Wiggins with the countdown. Wiggins danced with the ball, but instead of trying to shoot over White he decided the Warriors were better off with Green taking a 3. As he slammed on the edge, White knocked the Wiggins over bigger and more bouncy and could have drawn an overfault from behind:

Those little battles between Wiggins and White didn’t stand out in the moment, but that’s only because White won them. Some teams prefer not to change, fearing opponents will find mismatches late in the clock and punish guards on the boards. Boston has changed more than any team in the league in the regular season because its identity is based on the fact that everyone can defend themselves.

Udoka called it “gratifying” to see players like White and Horford step in when Tatum had a tough shooting night, adding the Celtics pride themselves on not relying on just one guy offensively. The way Horford talked about the confidence they have in White and how much they love his energy, it seems like they take special joy in seeing him continue that momentum.

If Boston wins three more games, White will join Gasol, Rasheed Wallace and Clyde Drexler on the short list of the best midseason acquisitions in NBA history, if he hasn’t already. Asked specifically what White brought to the table in the fourth quarter of Game 1, Udoka replied, “A bit of everything.”

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