Submitted as evidence that a positive spin can be put on that ol’ Takes One To Know One adage, we present to you ultimate glue-guy Al Horford making a point to salute emerging glue-guy Derrick White after their stellar supporting performances in the Celtics’ Game 5 victory over the Heat.
“D-White for us was unbelievable tonight,” said Horford after the Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 93-80 win Wednesday night in Miami. “He was great. His energy, his activity, [he’s] such a smart player. Made really big plays.
“People probably won’t talk about it enough, but for me he was huge. The minutes he gave us and the impact he had on this game.”
Horford’s praise of White seemed impromptu, and the gesture was typical of the Celtics’ thoughtful senior leader. But he was slightly wrong about something — after the past two games, anyone who swears allegiance to the green and white is happily talking, texting, and thinking about about White’s crucial contributions in this series.
At this point, it doesn’t take one to know one at all. Celtics fans know now what White’s teammates and coaches have known virtually since his arrival from San Antonio in a February trade: His selfless approach and versatile skills make him an important asset, even on the nights when his shot isn’t falling.
And when it is? He can help the Celtics hold their ground, and even rescue them from time to time, when stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are temporarily being stymied and other reliable players are ailing, ineffective, or both.
White played arguably his best game of the postseason in Game 4 Monday, scoring 13 points — including the first 7 of the game — with 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals in 41 minutes in the Celtics’ 102-82 win. With Marcus Smart sidelined with an ankle injury, White essentially played a Marcus Smart game.
White was just as good on the road Wednesday. While Smart returned to the starting lineup, he was lacking his usual mobility, which limited his effectiveness. White again picked up the slack, particularly in the first quarter, when he had his floater working (he scored all 6 of his points in the frame on that shot) and also dealt out a couple of assists, including a lovely lob to Horford.
By halftime, White had a team-high 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, while most other Celtics joined the Heat in throwing rocks at the backboard, with everyone other than White hitting just 8 of 28 shots. The Celtics’ interconnected defense, which is officially tormenting the Heat’s perimeter players, and White’s poised, crafty play kept them close — they trailed by 5 at the break — until Tatum could find his shot and Brown plugged in the Basketball Instincts section of his brain in the second half, allowing the Celtics to take command.
White finished with 14 points (on 6-of-8 shooting), 5 assists, 2 steals, and much gratitude from teammates such as Horford and the coach, Ime Udoka, for his role in the second straight win.
“Capable scorer, driver, initiator,” said Udoka, assessing what White brings to the team. “One of our best guys at quick decisions, getting downhill and making plays. We trust in him to do that.
“He took advantage of some double-teams on Jayson. He’s really good at making the play behind. We trust him to get the ball in the middle, whether he has a floater, pull-up, or finding guys on the perimeter.
“I think [Game 4] kind of sparked it with the extra opportunity of Marcus being out. Great to have him back in that role coming with same aggression off the bench.”
That aggression is the key for White, who still carries himself like the new guy sometimes and can become hesitant when he misses his first couple of shots, to the point that his unselfish play becomes predictable.
After Game 4, Robert Williams offered a particularly thoughtful comment about White and the challenges that come with trying to find your place on a new team.
“[I’ve tried to let] him know he’s welcome. I’ve tried to do that since the day he got here,” said Williams. “It’s hard especially in the middle of the season coming to a team. You see guys laughing, joking, playing; you’re the new guy. So I just try to let him know we’re thankful for him. Welcome to this brotherhood. Speak up when you see something. Don’t be scared.”
When White is at his best, he’s reminiscent of what James Posey brought to the 2007-08 champion Celtics, not necessarily aesthetically or skill-wise, but in his ability to aid the cause in all sorts of areas.
White certainly didn’t play scared Monday, and he was fierce when some teammates were temporarily faltering again Wednesday. He’s a reason the Celtics went from down, 2-1, in this series to being one win from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.
Maybe it doesn’t necessarily take one to know one, but it’s apparent that White’s teammates recognized him as an essential, winning player, even at those times when he played as if he didn’t quite see it in himself.
Seems to me that’s the kind of welcoming brotherhood any player would want to be a part of.