Through Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
Stephen Curry lost sleep after game 1 the NBA Final. Draymond Green took to Twitter to “silence” everyone who said, “Draymond, you shit.” Clay Thompson called the warrior Implosion a “hard reminder” that they had gotten too comfortable.
A big reason the Warriors superstars faltered?
Derrick White torched them for 21 points to lead the Celtics to a 120-108 win, outclassing every Warrior except Curry.
Celtics stun Warriors to steal Game 1
The Boston Celtics made history last night as Boston defeated the Golden State Warriors 120-108 in Game 1. The Celtics became the first team in NBA Finals history to win double digits after entering the fourth quarter a double-digit deficit.
It was all a bit surreal for White, who had an unlikely path into the NBA.
“That’s what you work for,” White told FOX Sports. “This is the moment everyone dreams of.”
White’s phone buzzed non-stop after Thursday’s game.
In his first-ever NBA Finals appearance, he shot 6-on-11s off the field, including 5-on-8s with 3-pointers. He was a lockdown defender. And he ended up with the highest plus-minus (+25) of anyone on the pitch.
“I got a lot of messages from old teammates and old coaches,” White said, smiling.
For anyone who knows White, it’s hard not to be overjoyed for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound shooting guard who’s made his way into the league.
White had not had a single scholarship offer from a four-year university, coming from Legend High in Parker, Colorado in 2012. He was just under 6 feet tall by his senior year. And despite averaging 17.1 points in his final season, few believed he could succeed at the next level.
After his incredible performance in Game 1, which he described as the highlight of his career, White stood in a dimly lit hallway and debated the time he really thought he needed to retire from basketball.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t have any offers,” White told FOX Sports. “I thought I wasn’t going to play basketball at the college level, I was just a regular student. That was probably the low point. But I love basketball, just kept working and good things started to happen for me.”
White eventually received a non-scholarship offer from Johnson & Wales, an NAIA school known for producing renowned chefs, not future NBA players.
But then things took an unexpected turn.
As White’s deadline to make a decision neared, the coach who recruited White, Jeff Culver, eventually received an offer to head coach at Division II University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Culver then offered White a $3,000 room and board stipend, potentially changing his path.
During his three seasons there, White established himself as a prolific goalscorer, skilled playmaker and courageous defender. His body transformed. He has grown. He became a star.
In 2014, he finished a game with 50 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. He then led his team to the 2015 NCAA D-II Men’s Basketball Tournament and was named a Division II All-American in both 2014 and 2015.
In 2015, White gained enough influence to transfer to the University of Colorado, where he averaged 18.1 points, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 2016-2017. It was enough to get the attention of NBA scouts across the country.
The San Antonio Spurs selected White as the 29th overall pick in the 2017 draft. He spent 4 1/2 seasons at San Antonio before the Celtics took him on at the February close.
Now White isn’t just playing on one of the biggest sports stages, he’s thriving.
“We love Derrick,” said Al Horford after Thursday’s win. “What he brought to our group is just his energy, his commitment to work hard. He keeps working no matter how things go for him personally. He keeps preparing.”
It all paid off for White.
He was key in getting the Celtics past the Miami Heat in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals and scoring at least 13 points in three games, including a 22-point performance in Game 6.
None of this surprises Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Popovich always believed in White’s potential. He invited him to play for Team USA at the 2019 FIBA World Championship after many superstars declined to participate.
And as the Celtics advanced to the finals, Popovich texted White. He congratulated him and wrote a sentence that has resonated with White ever since.
“I was made for this,” White told FOX Sports.
Celtics point guard Marcus Smart also saw something special in White when they were teammates at the 2019 World Cup.
But he laughed as he recalled the first time they met back then. At the time, White wasn’t sure anyone knew who he was.
“The first thing Derrick said was ‘My name is Derrick,'” Smart recalled, laughing.
When White was traded to the Celtics, Smart was thrilled to play alongside him. He knew firsthand that White never backed down. He witnessed White’s deep understanding of the game.
But getting traded midseason wasn’t easy for White.
“It took me a while to even know the tracks,” White told FOX Sports. “It was kind of weird, they called a play and I looked around like, ‘Where should I be?'”
White initially felt lost. The Celtics core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Smart have played together since 2017. It took a while before he really felt like he belonged.
But his teammates helped ease the transition.
“Everyone was like, ‘Just be you. We brought you here because we love what you do,'” White said. “Well, that made it a lot easier.”
It is clear that white no longer feels like an outsider.
On Thursday, he was a big reason the Celtics stormed back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter. He made two crucial 3-pointers as his team edged the Warriors 40-16 in the final 12 minutes.
White is no longer unsafe. He’s no longer hesitant. He was not afraid of the League’s youngest dynasty.
In front of millions of people, he took on the three-time champions, playing an incredibly smart defense at one end of the court and then lighting it up at the other.
It’s an amazing amount of growth for someone who thought they quit basketball just 10 years ago.
Instead, he has the best NBA players in the business scratching their heads.
This much is certain: Derrick White no longer needs to introduce himself.
Now the whole world knows his name.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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