Derrick White’s career night to extend the Celtics season rooted in a message from Dad

BOSTON – When he arrived at the arena for Game 5, Derrick White received a familiar text message. It was four letters – DTBG – and he knew exactly what they meant.

Those are the letters he wears on his wrist every day, the same message he’s heard every time he speaks since he was eight years old. A message from his father.

Dare to be great.

For so many players, that means scoring points, blocking shots, or playing highlights. But Richard White taught his son to care about one thing only.

“To win. He just wants to win and he hates losing,” said the elder White The athletic. “Whether you’re playing cards or whatever, he just hates losing.”

The younger White has never sought the spotlight. He has shied away from it. When he made second-team All-Defense earlier in this playoff run, he actively deflected the praise.

The individual award almost made him uncomfortable. If he chases his own shot, he gets tired. His teammates and coaches have been telling him all year that he better be aggressive on both sides of the ball or there will be trouble.

But White has always been used to taking what he is given and quietly earning more. When he first arrived at Division II University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, he was given a red shirt against his will.

“We didn’t turn it into a plea, like, ‘Why is he wearing a red shirt if he’s better than these guys?'” Richard said. “We told Derrick that training is his game and he played it really hard and consistently beat the other players day in and day out. The coach said, “We’re putting on the red shirt. We can’t stop him, so we’re going to use him as a starter.’”

Nearly a decade later, he took the same approach with the Celtics. They traded for him by the 2022 deadline as they were on the rise and he was key to their NBA Finals run. But he had to find his way to become that crucial piece.

“Got to the Celtics and did the same thing. ‘I just want to fit in. I just want to fit in,” said Richard. “He can pass well, but the Celtics took the plunge this year because he did more than just pass. So once he knows how to inject himself, it raises the ceiling for himself and the team.”

The Celtics needed white to join this series, which is now 3-2 after Boston defeated Miami 110-97 in Game 5 Thursday. Especially after Malcolm Brogdon left the game due to pain in his right forearm caused by a partially torn tendon, the Celtics lost one of their key defensemen to Jimmy Butler.

Then White helped shut him down. White shot 6 of 8 from deep for a game-high 24 points after the Celtics spent the first 3.5 games of this series cold. He and Marcus Smart repeatedly initiated quick breaks, defending every inch of the floor. White not only fit in, he took over.

“It’s a long series and you need big games from different guys at different times in a series. That’s why it’s a team sport,” said Jayson Tatum. “You need everyone at some point to make it big, and Smart and D-White is the reason we won tonight.”

White’s father recalled his son winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week in February when half of the Celtics rotation was out and he started raining 3s and scoring at will.

It was a revealing moment that the team could count on White to do whatever it asked of him, as Boston did to turn the momentum of this streak in Game 5. But it was also a reminder of how the Celtics are at their best when he’s a perfectly machined cog in a bigger engine.

“I don’t know if I said this to Derrick or something, but if Derrick is the fourth or fifth best player on your team, your team will be very good because I’m confident I know what Derrick is going to do. bring it to the table and help the others do what they do,” said Richard.

That’s the balance this Celtics team has struck as it’s halfway through what could be the greatest comeback in NBA history. The Jays execute the attack, Marcus Smart sets the agenda, and White executes. The Heat managed to knock the Celtics off the field with one try in Game 5, but this game didn’t even come close thanks to White’s game-high 24 points and all-encompassing defense.

“Big player, big shots tonight. D-White showed up ready to play,” said Jaylen Brown. “As soon as they gave him some room, he let it fly, and he got hot off center. Not only offensively but also defensively. His aggressiveness is key. They try to get him into matchups sometimes, and his ability to block shots, chase guys off shooters, guard the best player, get into transition, that’s the best shot. That is really essential for our team.”

Game 4 began with the shift in the way the Celtics run their defense, putting pressure on them with extensive assist rotations to cover each other. The game plan was too difficult from the start, but it took until the second half to execute and the sequence completely turned around. Miami lost its dangerous shooting rhythm, Butler was no longer getting evictions whenever he wanted, and Boston’s offense was living in transition.

Grant Williams cementing his place in the lineup gave Boston a rotation of big man who would fly to shooters, operate switches on Butler and still fight on boxouts to start quick breaks. But that physicality would become nothing without White and Smart aggressively digging for the ball and getting hands in passing lanes to disrupt the Heat’s offense.

“I’m going to play Jimmy and then he’ll sprint from Jimmy all over the field to block a shot,” Grant Williams told me. The athletic. “So he leads that and also Smart and all our guys really are, so we have to feed their energy. He has been really crucial to our return to this series.”

Brown said the Heat reminded him of the Warriors in the way they sprint off screens, find the passing sacks and move their shooters so you’re always confused about the direction of the game.

“You can’t blink because they’re moving. You lose a shooter for a 3, so you have to be disciplined,” Brown said. “You have to be sane, you have to chase those guys, because they will run all night. You must bring your running shoes.’

That’s where White’s discipline, perseverance and engine take this team to the next level. He does everything from chasing Duncan Robinson across a screen, switching to Bam Adebayo and knocking him off the spot, or trapping Butler to force him to give up the ball and then denying the passing lane for the Heat to go elsewhere.

“He is shifting a lot (on the defensive). He plays with tremendous effort,” said Williams. He digs on Jimmy and before you know it, he’s sprinting off and chasing Duncan Robinson six screens away. So I try my best to do the same. But then Duncan scored on that one possession. So I don’t necessarily have the same thing as Derrick, but at least he has it.”

Smart is the free safety sit back and direct the traffic. Brown pokes at the ball as Tatum busts Butler, but White tries to send everything into the hands of the Celtics.

“D-White, second team All-Defense this year for a reason,” Tatum said. “He’s a big part of our team, our identity, things we try to do on defense. He’s a very smart basketball player on both sides, and his awareness, his instincts showed tonight.”

The Celtics are back in full swing. They’re still with their backs against the wall, but they’re pushing back harder than ever before in Miami. They play with confidence and connectivity at the highest level they’ve shown since they got together.

“We have a group of determined, tough guys that I know I can count on,” said Tatum. “I know I’m going to look left and right when all hope seems to be lost, when the game is on the line, our backs are against the wall, everyone’s going down fighting and giving it all they’ve got. ” to have. That’s contagious because we really — whether it’s an ignorant belief, we believe at all times that we still have a chance, that anything can happen.

In the end, winning is all the whites care about. The points are nice, but the result is all that matters.

So when the dad texted his son every day telling him to be awesome, there was only one thing for Derrick to say. It wasn’t just about this night. It was about the rest of this series and then, hopefully for the Celtics, the ultimate next.

It was about being at your best every day.

“He said, ‘I got you,'” said Richard White. “Well, we’ll see if he got me.”

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(Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

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