Derrick White's heroics followed Celtics dangerous "How not to close out a game" routine
What a moment last night. When you see Smart's shot and think it might actually be going in, but then it bounces out. You think realistically there can't be enough time to get another shot off. But then Derrick White swoops in for a rebound and follow up shot. Wait did he get it off in time? No, you're just being optimistic. This happens all the time where a follow up shot goes in after the buzzer beater attemt, but the replays always show the red light going off way before the release.
But then you see the first replay, and you're like, "I think he actually got it off in time!" And then it's confirmed and we have the potential for one of the greatest finishes in Boston sports history (The Celtics need to win on Monday in Game 7 or it will lose most of its luster. And of course if the Celtics win the championship this season, it will rank even higher).
Derrick White not only saved Boston's season, but a handful of Celtics from criticism for blowing a double digit lead with less than 4 mins to play in a game pic.twitter.com/XJPJ65qDxE
You can joke all you like about how everything that went wrong during the final four minutes of play was a set-up for the heriocs, but in reality the Celtics almost had one of the worst meltdowns in basketball history. You should never lose a game when up by ten with less than four minutes of play, especially if you're the more talented team. But the Celtics got within 0.2 seconds of that happening.
Going off my memory, here are some of the moments that almost caused the Game 6 collapse:
1. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown each missing 1 of their 2 free throws, while Jimmy Butler knocks down all of his on multiple possessions. Find a game where the Celtics lose by 1 or 2 and it typically includes a couple blown free throws at the very end of the game. Credit to Butler for hitting all of his, but if Jaylen and Smart each take care of the pair of free throws, the game is already over and a Celtics win prior to the last play.
2. Al Horfords’ defense on Butler down the stretch. I hate to criticize Al, because he is the consummate professional, he's nearly 37, and he's played over 40 minutes in most of these playoff games. And yes Butler is a very difficult cover, but on one play he plays super casual defense and Butler not only makes the lay-up, but gets an And-1. Terrible D. Then on the Heat's final possession Horford fouls Butler on a 3-pointer with the Celtics up 2.
It should also be noted that its the Celtics everyone switches defense that allows Spoelstra and the Heat to take advantage of poor match-ups against Butler. That's on Joe Mazzulla. Marcus Smart was the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Derrick White was on this year's 2nd team All-Defense, Jaylen Brown is supposed to be a solid defender, and so is Jayson Tatum. But it was Horford who had to guard Butler.
3. Joe Mazzulla didn't exactly stop the bleeding while the Celtics 10 point lead became a 1 point deficit. Where was that new found quick trigger finger on timeouts that he experimented successfully with in Game 5? And when it all came down to one final possession with a respectable 3 seconds left on the clock to draw up some great play, the result was a Marcus Smart fadeaway 3-pointer. If the ball doesn't bounce the right way after the miss or White (or Tatum) doesn't put it back in, that's the lasting play of this core.
I really believe with a Game 6 meltdown, Brad Stevens would have moved at least one of Brown or Smart. I think Mazzulla would have been safe at least to start next season, but needless to say it would have been a sour way to end the season and no one would care about the Celtics winning Game 4 and 5.
4. According to the All-NBA teams (and most Celtics fans), Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are top 10 NBA players, but neither could lead the Celtics to victory up 10 with less than 4 minutes to go. Though both All-Stars put up strong offensive numbers, they combined for another 7 turnovers. And heavy are the heads that wear the crowns.
If you want to be considered one of the best players in the world, you are open to the criticism that the LeBron James' and Giannis' get when their teams fail. If Duncan Robinson hits one of those 3-pointers in the final stretch which had us all holding our breath, the Heat win, Butler gets the praise for leading his team to the Finals again, and the Celtics stars would get the blame for choking.
Butler stepped up in crunch time. Tatum and Brown didn't. But all is well that ends well right? Sure. A near choke job win is still a win and any win is better than a loss, but like Charles Barkley brought up last night, have you ever seen a championship team fall apart like the Celtics consistently do?
If Boston goes on to beat the Heat on Monday, thinking you can blow a game or two (or three) versus Jokic, Murray, and the talented, rested, well coached Nuggets and still win the NBA Finals is foolish. These Celtics should have learned that when they were up 2-1 versus the Warriors last season and choked down the stretch in Game 4. The Heat are much less talented than the Celtics, so Boston can potentially get away with their patented "How not to close out a game" routine, but that's not going to fly in the NBA Finals.
Enjoy the moment Celtics players and coaches of a classic win, but hopefully you can finally fix what's plagued this core, which is closing out games properly. All the past NBA championship teams knew how.