With Kristaps Porziņģis Injured, Derrick White Emerges As Celtics’ Playoff X-Factor

If the Celtics can expect this from their third scoring option, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Boston doesn’t raise banner 18 this summer.
Derrick White has become the Celtics’ x-factor this postseason.
Derrick White has become the Celtics’ x-factor this postseason. / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
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With the Boston Celtics leading the Miami Heat 99–85 with less than a minute to go in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series on Monday night, Boston’s Derrick White caught a pass in rhythm on the right wing from center Al Horford and elevated for a wide-open three-point look.

Cash.

The three-pointer by White, his eighth of the night en route to a career-high 38-point performance, put the Heat away for good in Boston’s 102–88 victory that put the Celtics up 3–1 in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals.

As he frequently does, White deflected praise after his career night, instead pointing to the influence of Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla and his teammates for how they’ve empowered him to become the best version of himself all year long.

“It starts with Joe,” White said after the victory. “Ever since he took over, he’s just given me the most confidence. I can talk to him, he can talk to me and just our relationship is just getting better and better each day. It’s amazing to play for him and I love it. And honestly the teammates, I mean, we’ve got such great players on the team but they allow me to do what I do and believe in me and I think that’s big.”

On a team anchored by young superstar players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, White’s impact can often be overlooked by the casual fan. But the Celtics were struggling mightily offensively and needed a spark, which White provided in spades.

The usually efficient Tatum and Brown combined for 37 points on 12-of-32 shooting. Outside of White, the Celtics made just 21 of their 60 shots (35%).

On top of the poor shooting effort from everyone not-named Derrick White in Game 4, the Celtics also lost what many believed to be the team’s x-factor in their banner 18 pursuit, 7’2” center Kristaps Porziņģis, to a right calf strain in the second quarter. He is expected to miss “at least” the next several games, but it’s a safe bet that Porziņģis, the matchup nightmare on both ends of the floor and the linchpin to Boston’s title chase, will be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.

The Porziņģis injury leaves Boston without its tertiary scorer, but more importantly, leaves the team short of the player who was supposed to make its recent postseason shortcomings disappear.

Enter White, who in his second full season with the franchise and third postseason, has emerged as a potent offensive weapon to go along with his All-NBA–level defense. White followed up his Game 4 three-point shooting barrage by scoring 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Game 5, which included five three-pointers in Boston’s 118–84 victory over Miami that exorcized plenty of the Celtics’ playoff demons that laid at the feet of the Erik Spoelstra–led Heat. In Boston’s first game without Porziņģis, the offense didn’t miss a beat, thanks in large part to the play of White. 

Heat guard Patty Mills tries to slow down White with little success.
Heat guard Patty Mills tries to slow down White with little success. / Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

White’s Game 5 effort capped off a first-round playoff series that saw him average 22.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 74.3% true shooting. He is the sixth player in NBA history to average 20 ppg on 55/45/90 shooting splits, according to the NBA.

If that’s the kind of production the Celtics will continue to get out of their third scoring option moving forward, especially in the absence of Porziņģis, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Boston doesn’t raise banner 18 this summer.

After the Celtics’ Game 5 victory, Brown was asked if he felt like he and Tatum needed to do more without Porziņģis in the lineup.

“No,” Brown began. “I think we just have to continue to play our game like we’ve been doing our whole career and continue to show our growth and trust in our teammates. I think if we’re going to win, we’re going to win as a team. And we’ve gotta be able to use everybody to their best strengths. So I think that’s what we’re more focused on is to let the game come to you but do whatever the game needs to get a win.”

The Celtics will go as far as Tatum and Brown will take them, but White’s play could be the difference in whether Boston wins its first NBA championship since 2008 or ends its season, once again, short of its ultimate goal.

He’s the x-factor now this postseason for Boston, and will have a chance to leave his mark as one of the most important Celtics of this generation.


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Mike McDaniel

MIKE MCDANIEL

Mike McDaniel is a writer on the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated, where he has worked since January 2022. His work has been featured at InsideTheACC.com, SB Nation, FanSided, and more. Mike hosts the Hokie Hangover Podcast, covering Virginia Tech athletics, as well as Basketball Conference: The ACC Football Podcast. Outside of his professional life, he is a husband, father, and an avid golfer.