Jimmy Butler grabbed a loose ball and had nothing but open court in front of him on a fast break. He took his time, coasting to the hoop.
There was just one problem. His name was Derrick White.
While Butler thought he had an easy bucket, the Celtics guard failed to give up. He raced down the floor, caught the unsuspecting Butler and swallowed him, unleashing a ferocious chase-down block with his right hand. The Celtics regained possession. White had a few words for his teammates on the bench on his way back.
That play with 3:44 to go was the signature one of a signature night for White, who willed the Celtics to a home-opening 119-111 win over the Heat, their Eastern Conference nemesis who ended their season five months ago. They overcame Tyler Herro’s 28 points and another Heat barrage from 3-point range that sunk them in the playoffs last season. They did it, in some ways, by beating them at their own game.
White poured in 28 points – including 14 in the final period – and added three blocks, and Jaylen Brown had 27 points, including some big shots down the stretch, to lead a victory that personified some of the traits – toughness, defense, effort – they were missing back in the spring, and everything they could become this season. On a roster rich with such talent, the Celtics can win in so many ways. It was behind Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis in their season-opening victory. On Friday, it was White and Brown.
“The balanced attack that we had the entire game is kind of the epitome of what our team can be when we play together,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “When each guy plays the best version of them and then one guy doesn’t have it, the next guy steps up.
“I thought we were really intentional about who was playing well, what the matchup was, and what the spacing was. It’s kind of what we have to try to become.”
It’s easy to overlook White, who is certainly not the flashiest or most talented player on the Celtics. But his impact continues to be apparent. On a night when Porzingis struggled, and the C’s needed somebody to step up, White answered the call. The ball kept finding him on offense. He hunted it defensively. He was everywhere.
The Celtics trailed by one entering the fourth when White became unleashed. He scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter as Boston took control. It included a confident, pull-up heat-check 3-pointer that gave them a six-point lead. Later on, as the C’s held off the feisty Heat, White drained another 3-pointer to restore their lead to eight with 4:19 to go. Less than a minute later, he met Butler at the rim.
“The plays he made tonight were sick,” Mazzulla said. “They were just sick plays. Like there’s not another word to describe them. That’s just what he does.”
Some other takeaways from the win::
– Porzingis shined in his Celtics debut in New York on Wednesday but didn’t have the same success in his home opener. Porzingis was whistled for two fouls in the first 5:13 of the game as he struggled to slow down Heat center Bam Adebayo throughout the night, allowing him to get to the rim with ease as he finished with 27 points. Porzingis started the game 2-for-7 shooting, including 0-4 from 3-point range, got into a brief groove in the third quarter but ultimately did not match his performance from the opener. On one play in the third, he was whistled for a technical foul when he threw the ball through the hoop after letting Adebayo beat him again. Porzingis fouled out with three minutes remaining.
– Oshae Brissett, the versatile forward who signed with the Celtics this offseason, was a DNP for Wednesday’s season opener but made his official Celtics debut with 5:02 remaining in the first quarter. He made an immediate impact, endearing himself quickly to the TD Garden crowd with hustle plays. He pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds on one possession, which led to a 3-pointer from Sam Hauser. That capped a 10-0 Celtics run after they had fallen behind by 13 in the opening period. Brissett later had a dunk that cut Boston’s deficit to three after the first.
– Offensive rebounding was a major emphasis from Mazzulla this preseason, and the Celtics certainly had their coach’s message in mind Friday. Brissett’s effort was part of a big one on the offensive glass, where the Celtics corralled 10 boards that led to 14 second-chance points in the first half. They finished with 16 offensive rebounds for 23 second-chance points. When their offense wasn’t running crisply for most of the first half, those hustle plays kept them in the game.
– The Celtics’ defense locked in to end the first half as they held the Heat to six points over the final 5:04. They converted stops into points – including a mini 6-0 run capped by Brown’s steal of an inbounds pass for a dunk – that gave them the lead and they took that momentum into a five-point halftime lead.
– Brown, after a lackluster opener, had a weird start on Friday that included missing his first four shots but he pushed through it to create two and-one chances that ignited that 10-0 run. He continued to make some head-scratching plays, which included four turnovers, but came up big when it mattered most. He had 12 points in the fourth, including the dagger 3-pointer in the final minute.