When the Boston Celtics were in Miami five months ago, Derrick White’s head was spinning.
He was still trying to process the midseason trade that delivered him to Boston, and his new team’s improbable surge to the doorstep of the NBA Finals. White's wife, Hannah, went into labor before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals and White flew back to Boston to welcome son, Hendrix. The Celtics eased any anxiety White had in departing by producing a 25-point win to even the series.
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"It was crazy. I mean from February to June, it felt like I was on the move nonstop," said White. "This year, I feel much more settled in and comfortable. Last year was a great experience and I loved it all. But I'm feeling much more settled in this year."
White played a key role in the Celtics securing Games 4 and 5 against Miami, including logging a hefty 41 minutes when Marcus Smart missed Game 4 due to an ankle sprain. After a strong Game 1 to start the NBA Finals, White shot just 27.3 percent over the final five games of the season.
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The abrupt end to the roller coaster ride was jarring. Even worse, there were constant reminders of Boston coming up short. And it wasn’t until July that White really began to process everything that had gone on.
“Over the summer, I was just sitting back thinking about the last four months,” said White. “It flew by so quick and we never really got a chance to settle in and figure everything out. It was good, just having that little time to relax, process it all, and now get back to what you know.”
White has elevated to a starting role with Boston dealing with injuries to start the new season. Interim head coach Joe Mazzulla believes White’s role will only continue to grow because of how well he fits Boston’s schemes on both sides of the court.
Before the team traveled back to Florida this week, NBC Sports Boston sat down with White to assess that whirlwind 2022 and the new journey ahead (Questions edited for clarity):
NBC Sports Boston: Did you ever go back and watch any of the Finals games?
White: "I watched one game. Game Six. Then moved on. I focused on what I could focus on this summer. Just watched it one time and then moved on."
NBC Sports Boston: The bench got a lot of criticism for being inconsistent in that series. What was it like watching that game? Do you get frustrated?
White: "I mean everybody's frustrated. Just be so close and not finish it. You just want to have another opportunity at that. But you just have to keep getting better and understand the things that you need to work on and work on them. We can’t skip any steps."
NBC Sports Boston: How much did you tweak your shot this summer?
White: "It's not like I had plastic surgery on it or something. It’s still the same thing but just trying to work on that arc and staying in it and just having a good energy. But all the main parts are the same, just trying to be consistent with all that stuff."
NBC Sports Boston: Was it rewarding to see that shot be more consistent in the preseason?
White: "It's always good to see it go in. It shows your work is paying off. But I mean, it starts for real [with regular-season games]. So I just got to keep adding good days. And put good shots up there."
NBC Sports Boston: What do you do differently when you're with the starting group than maybe you do with the bench?
White: "Start of the game, I’m off the ball mostly, just playing off those guys, trying to space the floor, guard, do some little things here and there. Then last year I had the ball a little more with the second unit. I kind of feel like, how I play, I fit in wherever, so I'm not too worried if I’m coming off the bench or starting."
NBC Sports Boston: Who’s going to take the most charges on the team this year, you, Smart, or Blake Griffin?
White: "It’s going to be a tough battle. But I'm gonna say me, of course."
NBC Sports Boston: You don’t come off as overly confident on the court but we asked you before the season who on the team might surprise us most and you also picked yourself. Where else does that confidence come out?
White: "Maybe with my wife and my friends. They’d probably say something different. I’m just trying to be confident out there and do what I do.”
[Editor’s note: Mazzulla, while talking about White, said, "I love where he's at from a confidence standpoint … He's shooting with confidence. I think when he plays with confidence, I think that's important for all of us to make sure he's confident because he's really good for us. When he's shooting with confidence, I think he's a threat at all three levels."]
White: "From the outside, you see the games and you’re impressed. But it’s all the stuff on the practice court, the things they do after practice. The stuff that you can't really see unless you're in here. It's cool to see how they work off the court. They're obviously super talented and their work ethic is a big reason why."
NBC Sports Boston: What are the vibes like this year? We keep hearing this team is very business-like given the desire to get back to the Finals.
White: "I think we're having a lot of fun, too, even though it's business-like and everybody's working. Everybody is getting along with each other, joking around. You can see it like everybody kind of likes everybody … "
[White is interrupted as Smart starts loudly launching left-handed 3-pointers nearby and challenging anyone in sight to compete with him]
White: "Smart’s always trying that. He makes the most random stuff sometimes. That’s Smart for you."
NBC Sports Boston: How much better does it make you having to go up against Smart and Malcolm Brogdon every day in practice?
White: "You want to compete against the best. And having an opportunity to go against two guards that have done so much in this league, all it can do is make you better, push you to be better. So we're all pushing each other to be better and trying to help each other in any way we can."
NBC Sports Boston: You told us before the season that, when you first got to Boston, the staff here told you to go see Mazzulla if you needed help with defensive schemes. What’s jumped out about Joe now that he’s the interim head coach?
White: "[Former Celtics assistant coach] Will [Hardy] was like, 'If you need any defensive concept, you’re gonna go to Joe.' Joe’s kept that same mindset. He's gonna be on us all year about defense, having that right mindset, taking the challenge. I don’t think much will change in that aspect from being the head coach from where he was before. So it's a big challenge for all of us, but that's what we hang our hat on so we have to get after it."
NBC Sports Boston: In that Miami series, Mazzulla was in charge of the defensive game plan and we’d see him excitedly jump on the court to adjust personnel. He’s been calmer in his new role. Will we see more of that fiery personality?
White: "Yeah, he’s still that way. You’ll probably see it more this year because he’ll be in the front of the bench. But the same fiery competitor, ultra competitive. It’s fun to play for a guy like that."