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Before the Boston Celtics traded for Derrick White in February, they'd already started to turn their season around. You've probably heard the story by now: They were 18-21 after blowing a lead at Madison Square Garden in early January, then went 33-10 the rest of the way, making criticism of their new coach and skepticism about their two stars sound supremely stupid.

It was only when they got White, though, that they became the Celtics. They became a team that can shut opponents down even when the Defensive Player of the Year is not on the court. They became a team that could field lineups with no weak links defensively and be more than the sum of their parts offensively. The White trade made Boston complete.

For months, this group has reminded me of the 2019 Toronto Raptors, who started five All-Defense types and were loaded with talent but took time to blend their superstar's individual gifts into a fully cohesive offensive system. If these Celtics were those Raptors, then White would be their Marc Gasol, even though he's seven years younger than Gasol was and they play different positions. Gasol was the trade-deadline addition that took that team over the top, and while he was never the best player on the floor, he was the guy who kept everybody connected. 

To extend this analogy: When Gasol, a reluctant but more than capable 3-point shooter, knocked down shots from the outside, as he did in several key playoff moments, it could be demoralizing for the opponent. Every team Toronto faced in the playoffs counted on him turning down 3s or missing them. Fifteen games into Boston's playoff run, White had shot 10-for-48 (20.8 percent) from behind the 3-point line, most of them wide open and in rhythm. In multiple press conferences, coach Ime Udoka stressed that White contributes in a positive way regardless of whether or not his jumper is falling, that the Celtics all understand how he kickstarts their ball movement, increases their tempo, makes good decisions and affects the game defensively. 

Udoka was spot-on. White doesn't need to shoot well to help Boston win games. But it sure doesn't hurt when he does. In White's last three games, he has shot 11-for-18 from 3-point range, including 5-for-8 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.  

"You obviously have to pick and choose where you send attention," Stephen Curry said after his Golden State Warriors lost 120-108 on their home court. Curry credited the Celtics' Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum for their playmaking, then singled out White and Al Horford for their shotmaking. "Those two guys are key. You hope they don't stay that hot, but also you've got to do something about it, and we have to figure that out watching film tomorrow and Saturday."

White is both a recipient and a driver of Boston's offensive flow. To call him only a connector is to sell him short; he can initiate offense in the halfcourt, generate easy baskets on the break, score off cuts and, as the Warriors found out, capitalize on catch-and-shoot opportunities. He transformed the Celtics, though, by consistently making sound, simple plays, often after one of the stars has made the first domino fall, and by ensuring that Udoka never had to compromise one end of the floor for the other. That last part differentiates Boston from every team it faced on the way to the Finals, and maybe Golden State, too. 

"He fit right in as soon as he got to Boston and it was just like automatic," Brown said. "So we're lucky to have him."

"Derrick is such a smart basketball player, he could fit in anywhere," Tatum said. "I'm glad we got him."

On Thursday, White bricked his first two 3-point attempts. The Warriors predictably did not run him off the line when the ball found him on the perimeter. With the exception of his last make, an absurd, late-clock bomb over Curry, they were all clean looks.

"I missed my first two, but they felt great so I just stayed confident," White said. "Teammates and coaches have always told me to stay confident. It's good to see that [first] one go down, and just got on a roll from there."

White finished with 21 points and three assists and was a game-high +25 in 32 minutes. 

"He's definitely a player that can elevate his level at any time," Brown said. "And I've known that before when I played with him at [Team] USA but even learned more from him at USA. He's just a baller. Certain people get up for moments and have the ability to just outplay the scouting report and just can flat-out hoop."

Before he hit any of his 3s, he busted Golden State's zone with a floater and set up Horford for a short jumper, two plays that will not make any highlight reels: 

Defensively, he spent much of his night chasing Curry and Jordan Poole. On one representative possession, in terms of the effort White had to expend, he faceguarded Curry off the ball, got momentarily dislodged, sprinted around a screen, made Curry put the ball on the floor, pursued him from behind and crashed the glass:

Putting White on Curry allowed the Celtics to put Marcus Smart on Draymond Green when they were both on the court together, effectively taking the Curry-Green pick-and-roll off the table. Things were going so well without Smart in the fourth quarter, though, that Udoka didn't even put the DPOY back in until the 3:47 mark. Boston went on a historic run and held the Warriors to 13 points in the final frame before a meaningless 3 in garbage time. 

After his third make from behind the arc, White made Poole bite on a pump fake, then drove baseline, got Andrew Wiggins in the air and earned a pair of free throws: 

He created a corner 3 for Brown (assist!), an above-the-break 3 for Horford (hockey assist!) and an extremely open straightaway 3 for Payton Pritchard (would-be hockey assist!) by putting pressure on the rim:

The Celtics switched more as the game went on, which, combined with their lights-out shooting, made it difficult for Golden State to find any semblance of flow in the fourth quarter. Up by six down the stretch, White got in his stance against Wiggins with the clock ticking down. Wiggins danced with the ball, but instead of trying to shoot over White, he decided the Warriors were better off with Green taking a 3. As it clanked off the rim, White boxed out the taller, bouncier Wiggins and could have drawn an over-the-back foul: 

Those little battles between Wiggins and White didn't stand out in the moment, but that's only because White won them. Some teams prefer not to switch, fearing that opponents will find mismatches late in the clock and punish guards on the boards. Boston switched more than any team in the league in the regular season because its identity is based on everybody being able to hold his own.

Udoka called it "rewarding" to see players like White and Horford step up when Tatum had a rough shooting night, adding that the Celtics pride themselves on not relying on one guy offensively. The way Horford talked about the confidence they have in White and how much they love his energy, it seems they get a particular joy out of seeing him go on this hot streak. 

Should Boston win three more games, White will join the likes of Gasol, Rasheed Wallace and Clyde Drexler on the short list of the best midseason acquisitions in NBA history, if he has not done so already. Asked specifically what White brought to the table in the fourth quarter of Game 1, Udoka said, "A little bit of everything."