The Great White Buffalo, forever may he roam!
Following an incredible Games 1-2 from Derrick White, Celtics Nation has had quite the 24-48 hours hyping up the 2-way specialist. It’s been quite the surprise, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen this kind of elevation from him, especially after a tough stretch in the playoffs last season.
His impact goes even deeper than we may think. He’s been causing matchup nightmares for Atlanta on both ends. So, let’s go through his 2-way impact so far in this series and how he might take that deeper into the playoffs.
Let’s start on the defensive side of the ball because he has taken his All-Defense-level production from the regular season and brought it to the playoffs. First off, his point-of-attack defense has been perfect so far. He’s fit very well in the Celtics’ pre-switch defense, working his way through multiple matchups per possession. Due to that, he’s actually found himself in the paint quite a bit so far in these first two games.
He’s been asked to defend the rim a lot, but also serves as a primary rebounder for the Celtics. Just like everything else, he’s excelled. He’s registered 11 defensive rebounds in 2 games, over half of which have been contested by much larger players. 5.5 DREBs per game for a 6’3” guard is not something to necessarily expect in a game plan, but certainly something to keep an eye on to close out the series.
Along with the rebounds, his patented rim protection has seen a ton of play as well. Five blocks in two games and countless amount of shots contested, he’s been impossible to get away from. Fortunately for Boston, Atlanta is about as good of a matchup for Derrick White as you could ask for. Their starting backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray play right into White’s hands. Trae doesn’t have the size or strength to get passed White on drives, so he has feasted in 1-on-1 possessions against Trae Young. He’s defended Trae Young in 59 possessions so far and has held him to just 14 points on 5-17 shooting. Can’t really ask for much more than that.
On Murray, it’s been a bit of a different beat. Not many 1v1 possessions between the former teammates so far, but White has done well in those matchups holding Murray to 2-8 shooting from the field. Murray has been matched up with a wing or with Marcus Smart more so than White, but he’s done well enough on switches to stay with the rangy athlete that is Dejounte Murray. All in all, White has been as advertised defensively showing once again why he should likely make an all-defense team this season.
Offensively, it’s been a clinic. We knew that Atlanta would have difficulties defending the paint and White has taken advantage. He is 12-of-15 for 2-point attempts so far in this series while also getting to the line nine times and making eight. We saw his playmaking really come together over the course of the season and we saw it all during the homestand. Head coach Joe Mazzulla made a great comment after the game talking about how White always seems to make the right decision and he’s spot on with that assessment. Atlanta has played this series mostly tight on outside shooters, basically telling Boston to drive to the hoop. White responded in a big way in Game 2 with 16 FGA attempts, he hit that number only eight times in 82 games, but only hit double-digits makes three times. His Game 2 performance was a true game breaker — have to tip your cap to a guy stepping up in the biggest moments.
Whether or not Boston gets passed Atlanta remains to be seen. However likely it may be, White’s emergence as Boston’s 3rd best player is a welcome surprise. There are plenty of great candidates, whether it’s Rob Williams, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, or even Malcolm Brogdon, but that should just tell you how stupidly deep this team is. Heck, they can all be the 3rd best player on the team if they play like that.