BOSTON, MA — Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens watched his team secure home-court advantage, beating the Atlanta Hawks 119-106 in Game 2 at TD Garden to grab a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 first-round series. Stevens was in attendance on Tuesday in a game where Derrick White — the guard Brad traded for in 2022 — kept the Hawks at bay on both ends of the floor and has emerged as one of the Celtics’ most valuable players.
White was phenomenal and efficient, tallying 26 points on 11-of-16 attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers, with a couple of assists, seven rebounds, three blocks, and one steal in Tuesday’s win. When he wasn’t scoring or facilitating on one end, White, along with teammate Marcus Smart, was containing the Hawks’ dynamic scoring duo — Trae Young and Dejounte Murray — on the other.
Murray (29) and Young (24) combined for 53 points, but their collective worst came when the Hawks needed their high-powered offense most — in the fourth quarter. Young went 2-for-7 from the floor, and Murray was almost the same (2-for-6) in the final frame when Bogdan Bogdanovic drained a 3 that sliced the Hawks’ deficit to nine with 7:48 left to play. Boston’s 20-point lead was fading.
White responded with a layup 19 seconds later. He then scored seven of the Celtics’ following ten points, including an assist to Jayson Tatum during a 23-9 run that closed out the win. Tatum finished with a team-high 29 points, ten rebounds, and six assists.
“When we have the lineups that we have, and he has the ability to handle, the ability to set, the ability to play, and when Smart and Jayson, and Jaylen are creating advantages for others, he is a beneficiary of those advantages at times,” Mazzulla said about White after the game. “He does a great job of taking advantage of those.”
Naturally, All-Stars Jaylen Brown and Tatum command the bulk of opposing teams’ defensive scheming, leaving room for White to roam between the cracks. But it’s Derrick’s offensive efficiency combined with a knack for slowing down the opposition’s best guards have maximized White’s value to the nth degree.
Stevens must have seen this coming. Less than 24 hours on the job, Brad’s first trade, one with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford and Moses Brown in exchange for Kemba Walker and the 16th pick in the 2021 Draft, set the tone for Brad’s tenure as Celtics president of basketball operations. It proved he wasn’t afraid of trading future first-round picks, which former GM Danny Ainge was often reluctant to do.
However, unlike his predecessor, Brad sees things differently, especially if it means bringing in a player who can immediately impact winning.
Therefore, as the 2022 NBA trade deadline approached, Stevens consolidated the Celtics’ second unit by trading Josh Richardson, and Romeo Langford, while sweetening the offer with a top-four protected first-round pick in 2022 and a 2028 first-round pick swap in exchange for White. Such as Horford, amidst his second stint in Boston, White’s now cemented into Joe Mazzulla’s starting lineup and is producing like a star alongside Tatum and Brown.
Before 2022-23, the decision to bring Horford back was at the top of Stevens’ best trades, as Brad explored probably the team’s best solution of getting an injury-prone Kemba Walker’s max contract off the books while bringing in a quality two-way player to fit the Celtics’ system before Kemba’s trade value diminished entirely. It was the best trade we saw from Stevens then, but White’s changed that narrative, as he could be the biggest x-factor to Boston capturing Banner 18.
Averaging 25.0 points while scoring at a 62.1% clip, including 50% from behind the arc throughout the first two games of the Celtics’ best-of-7 series, White’s offense is scorching right now — which doesn’t come as a surprise for Derrick’s All-Star teammates in Brown and Tatum, who White says encourages him to be aggressive on offense.
“It feels good. JB in timeout like, “C’mon, D. Be aggressive, do what you do.” So, it’s cool to hear that from those guys,” White said after Tuesday’s 119-106 win. “They all empower me to go out there and play my game. I’m just trying to have fun and get some wins.”
Tatum relays a similar message.
“We’re just so much more of a dynamic team when D-White is asserting himself and being aggressive and not being passive,” Tatum said. “We’ve talked about it — being too passive and looking for guys too much. He’s like too good of a guy. But, these last few games, being aggressive, making the right play, attacking the rim, not necessarily waiting — just makes us that much better of a team.”
Celtics fans rejoiced in the final minutes of play as Boston cruised to its second win in three days, showering White with an “M-V-P” chant — which Tatum, who’s received the same treatment countless times throughout the regular season, says was mentioned by Derrick after Tuesday’s win.
“We talked about it after the game,” Tatum said about White receiving MVP chants. “He was like, ‘That’s what it feels like?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess.’”
Since February, when White averaged 19.7 points at a 49.1% clip, 41.3% from behind the 3-point arc, with 5.6 assists, he’s exuded confidence at a significantly higher level on the offensive end of the floor. He’s no longer dormant in particular stretches, especially when Brown and Tatum struggle to find their offensive rhythm.
Derrick is constantly thinking one to two steps ahead of the opposing defense, making it pay for sleeping on his scoring prowess while getting teammates involved and pestering score-firsts guards into poor shooting performances. White finally found his footing in Boston.
“I’ve been saying that last year was kind of a whirlwind ever since I got traded. For a lot of reasons,” White explained. “But, this year, from the first day, I just felt comfortable — just trying to get better each and every day, and the team (is) doing a great job just empowering me and helping me out throughout the whole ride.”