How Derrick White’s Absence Could Impact Celtics In Game 2 Vs. Heat

Marcus Smart's potential return just became even more important


May 19, 2022

The Boston Celtics won’t have Derrick White for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday, as the team ruled out the guard hours before tipoff against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena.

Celtics head coach Ime Udoka told reporters White flew back to Boston for the birth of his child, which came earlier than expected.

First and foremost, White is well within his rights to miss Game 2 for that reason. Obviously, we’re talking about a major life event. So, let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

But there’s also no denying the Celtics could really miss White as they look to bounce back from a Game 1 loss — doubly so if Marcus Smart, who’s probable with a mid-foot sprain, is sidelined again.

Payton Pritchard presumably will see extended minutes with White out, regardless of whether Smart plays. His shooting should allow the Celtics to space the floor offensively, with Boston’s Game 7 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 2 being a perfect example of the spark Pritchard can provide off the bench, but his defense could prove troublesome. White is a much better defender.

The Heat exposed Pritchard’s defensive shortcomings Tuesday night in Game 1, with Jimmy Butler consistently taking advantage of the matchup mismatch. Pritchard’s pick-and-roll D simply wasn’t up to snuff. And while Smart’s impending return surely would offset the loss of White, to some extent, it’s unclear whether the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year will be limited at all physically.

White’s absence also could mean more run for Aaron Nesmith, who appeared in four games against the Bucks and played a postseason-high 11 minutes in Game 1 against the Heat. He actually excelled on the defensive end Tuesday, blocking three shots as Boston tried desperately to stop Miami’s third-quarter surge, but his bread, like Pritchard’s, is buttered on the offensive end. Nesmith logging too much time is proof positive of the Celtics’ depth being tested under less-than-ideal circumstances.

The Celtics have at times this postseason rolled out a closing lineup comprised of Smart, White, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford. That’s off the table for Game 2, with White out and Al Horford (health and safety protocols) listed as doubtful after missing Game 1.

Boston is fortunate that Robert Williams III survived and looked good upon returning to the lineup Tuesday after missing the final four second-round games against Milwaukee, otherwise the Celtics really would be stretched thin Thursday.

Basically, Udoka has his work cut out for him in Game 2, trying to push the right buttons while also striking the correct chord from a motivational standpoint. Ultimately, in wake of the White news, Smart’s ability (or lack thereof) to play 35-38 minutes at his usual level could be the difference between the Celtics falling behind 2-0 and them evening the series before it shifts to Boston.

Or maybe Tatum and/or Brown will just take over. That’d work, too.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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