Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson

Getty Magic and Shaq share a laugh on the sidelines.

The Celtics went up 3-0 in the 2024 NBA Finals on June 12 courtesy of a 106-99 victory in Game 3 of the series. While Jaylen Brown (31 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Jayson Tatum (30 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) were the statistical stars, Lakers legend Magic Johnson felt Derrick White was the unsung hero.

Johnson wrote on X, “Jaylen Brown took over in the second half tonight, scoring 24 of his 30 points to lead the Celtics to victory! Jayson Tatum finally played his game with a 31 point performance, but the unsung hero of the Celtics was Derrick White!”

Jaylen Brown took over in the second half tonight, scoring 24 of his 30 points to lead the Celtics to victory! Jayson Tatum finally played his game with a 31 point performance, but the unsung hero of the Celtics was Derrick White!

To Johnnson’s point, White’s stat line of 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists don’t do justice to his overall impact on not just the Game 3 win, but the entire series. White has made his presence felt by diving for loose balls, completing a key possession with a rebound, or making a clutch block or steal — anything the team has needed from him.

Derrick White. The unsung hero of the second half last night.

13 points (3-3 FG, 3-3 3PT, 4-4 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists & 2 blocks.

Just an amazing all-around player. Clutch, too. Gotta love Derrick White.

Jrue Holiday to Derrick White in the clutch. Silencing the crowd.

The precision on this pass is insane

In the first three games of the 2024 NBA Finals, White averaged 16.3 points, 4.o rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks while playing lockdown defense against the Mavericks’ backcourt players.

White Credits Joe Mazzulla for his Growth

White, who was traded from the Spurs to the Celtics in 2022, struggled to find his footing as a starting guard during his time in San Antonio. During his four-and-a-half years playing under Gregg Popovich, White averaged 11.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists and shot a mediocre 34.4 percent from three.

Since his trade to the Celtics, White went from a utility player to a star-caliber player, as evidenced by his two All-Defensive selections in 2023 and 2024.

After the Celtics claimed a 3-0 lead in the 2024 NBA Finals on June 12, White credited current Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla for his growth as a player. White made the comments when asked about his three-point attempts skyrocketing to 6.8 per game in the 2023-24 season after he averaged just 3.7 shots in a Spurs uniform.

“Joe is a basketball genius,” White said of his coach. “So, whatever he says, I’m going to try to do at my highest capabilities. I mean, we just try to make the right basketball play every time down the court — whether that’s a three or just to try and have the right spacing and make the right basketball plays.”

Derrick White: “Joe is a basketball genius. Whatever he says, I’m going to try to do it at my highest capabilities.”

Popovich Thrilled for White’s Ascension

While he no longer gets to coach him, Popovich is very proud to watch White’s ascension from afar.

“I’m thrilled [for him],” Popovich said of White’s newfound success on January 19, 2024. “I mean, I love the kid. I keep in touch with him, and, you know, he’s one of the great examples of working through it — playing in the G-League a couple of years, didn’t even think he belonged in the league. Started out at a small school in Colorado Springs and ended up his final year at Colorado.”

The Spurs coach acknowledged that White began to make gradual improvements during his time in San Antonio, but a change of scenery took his game to a new level.

“He worked his fanny off and got all those minutes there and gained confidence with each year,” Popovich said. “He’s never stopped. He’s gotten better every single year, whether it’s shooting or understanding pick and roll. He always could pass really well. He had a good affinity for passing. He had a good sense of space defensively and how you get some things done. But it was mostly a matter of confidence.”

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