The Boston Celtics have crawled all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit to force Game 7 against the Miami Heat in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals. In order to complete the greatest comeback in the history of the NBA Playoffs, the Celtics will need a few players to show up in a big way.
It's no secret that the Celtics will be relying on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown more than anyone against the Heat in Game 7. Tatum is Boston's best player and No. 1 scorer. Brown is the Celtics' second-best player and an All-NBA Second-Team selection. But who could be the Celtics' X-factor that helps Boston eliminate Miami and reach the 2023 NBA Finals?
Derrick White is the Celtics' X-factor in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. For much of the regular season and the 2023 NBA Playoffs, White has helped turn Boston into a truly great team. All of the league's top teams have a pair of All-Star-caliber players. White's all-around game often makes him much more than a role player, oftentimes the difference between a Celtics' win and a loss.
Game 6 was the perfect encapsulation of just how valuable White can be to Boston. On paper, White's stat line of 11 points, four rebounds and six assists is nothing special. However, his impact on the Celtics beating the Heat in a must-win game went far beyond those numbers.
Of course, there's White's game-winning buzzer-beater that defeated the Heat and kept Boston's championship hopes alive. But White was only able to make that layup because he put himself in a position to do so. White crashed the boards when Marcus Smart put up his jump shot with three seconds left. White grabbed the rebound and put the ball back up just in time.
Defensively is where White had his most value in Game 6. The Celtics guard was a shutdown defender in the biggest game of the season. Miami players went 1-of-12 from the field when White contested their shots, according to ESPN. When White was the primary defender on Jimmy Butler, the Heat star missed all six of his field-goal attempts. White had three blocks in Game 6.
It was a stark contrast from earlier in the series. As the Heat took a commanding 3-0 series lead, Butler had his way with White when finding him on switches.
Butler continued to look like the best player in the Eastern Conference from Games 1-3. Butler was not the same dominant player in Games 4-6. Ultimately, it's the biggest reason why the Heat are on the verge of a historic collapse.
White plays a key role in the way that the Celtics defend Butler. If Boston's All-Defensive Second Team selection continues to limit Butler in Game 7, Miami's season will probably come to an end.
+19 best on the team
21 made 3s – most in the series
55.3% 3PT – best in the series (minimum 10 attempts)
The Celts with White on the floor
120.2 offensive rating
110.9 defensive rating
+9.2 net (best in the series)
— Brian Barrett (@itsbrianbarrett) May 28, 2023
In the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, White averaged 10.3 points per game. In three straight wins, White is scoring 17.0 points per game. White leads all players in the series with 21 made 3-pointers. He's hit at least three 3-pointers in each contest.
Boston has a 120.2 offensive rating when White is on the floor. The Celtics' defensive rating is 110.9 with White in the lineup.
White's 2023 playoff run started with a bang. He scored 24 points in Game 1 of the first round against the Atlanta Hawks. In Game 2, White had 26 points and seven rebounds. The Celtics won both games without breaking a sweat.
If White has a big Game 7, it likely means that the Celtics are headed to the NBA Finals.