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christopher l. gasper

Brad Stevens’s acquisition of Derrick White is paying off for Celtics in these playoffs

Derrick White (center) scored the first 7 points of the game, and the Celtics were off and running.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The Celtics’ landslide win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, a “contest” in name only, was also a Gino-like victory dance for first-year president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and his prized pickup.

It showcased Stevens’s vision, and the depth of the roster he assembled and then renovated at the trade deadline by making the very un-Danny Ainge-like decision to ante up a pair of first-round picks as part of a deal to acquire point guard Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs.

White was the most prominent addition from a shakeup that saw Stevens ship out seven players to buttress Boston’s championship chances. Salute White and Stevens for the Celtics’ ensemble 102-82 triumph Monday night that sent the series back to South Florida as a best-of-three affair.


The trade to acquire White never looked better than with him on hand to fill in admirably in a must-win game for heart-and-soul guy Marcus Smart, rendered hors de hoops with a right ankle injury suffered in Game 3. Like the man he replaced, White’s impact went beyond the box score. He was Boston’s spirit animal, accepting the challenge of the moment by finishing with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and a block.

“He’s been great,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. “Part-time starter when guys are out, he checks so many boxes for us. Like I said, it’s not only things that show up on the stat sheet or the scoring, but he’s the guy that moves the ball extremely well, defends extremely well multiple positions.

“We don’t lose a lot with certain guys in or out. Couldn’t be more happy with him being here and what he brings to our team.”

Derrick White provided a real spark for the Celtics in their Game 4 win.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Having a player of White’s caliber to plug in for a vital piece like Smart speaks to the Celtics’ calling card — their strength in numbers. Throughout the playoffs, different players have stepped up in different games as support beams to hold up the NBA Finals dreams of the core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Smart.


Monday night it was White’s turn, and he wasted no time. The fifth-year guard set the tone by scoring the first 7 points for the Celtics. Meanwhile, the hoop was hermetically sealed for the Heat. Miami started 0 for 14. After White tossed a fast-break alley-oop to Tatum, it was 16-1.


In a 180 from Game 3, it was the Celtics up big after the first quarter. They led, 29-11, behind 12 points from Tatum — who outscored the Heat himself after scoring just 10 points in Game 3 — and 10 points from White.

After trailing by 26 in the first half of Game 3, Boston led by 27 in the first half of Game 4. The winning team in each game of this whiplash series has led by 20 points or more.

Without the league’s top defender, the Celtics didn’t miss a beat. Boston’s defense dominated. Miami had just 57 points with 8:55 left in the fourth quarter. Not a single Heat starter registered double-digit points.

White was a huge part on that end as well.

“Obviously missing Smart, keep saying shout-out to D-White again,” said Celtics center Robert Williams. “I feel like his energy at the beginning of the game, he set the tone for a lot of us.”


And a shout-out to Stevens for going all out to acquire White.

Ainge’s fingerprints are all over this team, from the Jays and Smart to Grant Williams and Robert Williams as late first-round picks. Give him his due.

But one of the issues Danny the Dealer encountered in his latter campaigns was finding the right supporting cast. There were misses such as Jeff Teague, Tristan Thompson, and Evan Fournier. There were role players who thought they were better than that, such as Marcus Morris. There was a lot of asset accumulation, but not enough competent complementary pieces.

Bumped up from the bench, Stevens seems to have a better feel for constructing a working roster than his old boss. He’s also willing to part with precious first-round picks to do it.

He shipped a 2021 to Oklahoma City to dump the contract of Kemba Walker and reacquire Al Horford. He surrendered this year’s first-rounder as well as a first-round pick swap in 2028 to bring White aboard.

It hasn’t always been the smoothest transition for White, who started 48 of 49 games for the Spurs.

“You kind of get thrown in middle of the year, no training camp, nothing,” said White. “They’ve got something that they’ve established, been playing I don’t know how many months together.

“You kind of just learn it on the fly, try not to step on any toes, which kind of sets you back personally.”

Miami’s Max Strus bites on a first-quarter fake from Derrick White during the first quarter of Game 4.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Shaky shooting since he arrived in Boston hasn’t helped either. But just like the man who acquired him, White was determined to be aggressive. He hit four of his first six shots in Game 4. He didn’t make another basket the rest of the way, finishing 4 of 14.


“The team has done a great job of just being like, no, just be you,” said White. “Smart said it to me [Monday] morning, Rob said it. I’ve just got to do that. That makes it a lot easier.”

This has already been a memorable series for White. He missed Game 2 as his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Hendrix, which is the same name as Robert Williams’s infant son.

The series has been one of on-court amnesia, as the slate gets wiped clean and one team gets wiped out each game.

Neither team has been able to establish equilibrium. The Celtics hope to change that in Game 5 Wednesday with or without Smart, who is questionable.

White will be waiting in the wings, ready to play his role, however large or small.

That’s what championship role players do. It’s how the Brad Stevens-built Celtics roll and a big reason they rolled in Game 4.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at christopher.gasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.