Derrick White’s Tip-In Could Join Kevin Durant’s Toe On The Line As All-Time Playoff What Ifs

Less than a week ago, the Boston Celtics were facing the prospects of one of the most embarrassing sweeps in recent memory, trailing 3-0 and coming off of a complete no-show in Game 3 in Miami. Now, they are headed to a Game 7 where they are heavy favorites (8 points at most books) to advance to the Finals for the second straight year.

Getting there required the Celtics to dig deep and find a level of play they hadn’t shown much of in the first three contests, particularly in the critical moments in the second half. They had to improve dramatically on defense, be more trusting of each other on offense, and get improved play from their stars. They also needed some incredible luck after another late game collapse in Game 6 allowed Miami to erase a double-digit deficit to take the lead on three Jimmy Butler free throws with three seconds to play.

On their final possession, Derrick White saved the season with a ridiculous tip-in that left his fingertips with 0.1 on the clock, as he crashed the glass after Marcus Smart put up a spinning, fading three (that almost went down itself). So many things had to happen for that sequence to play out as it did, including Smart not passing to a wide open White in the corner after the initial inbound pass, which would’ve led to an open three, but far from a guarantee of a make. The ball had to spin out of the rim quickly enough and at exactly the right angle to pop into White’s hands so he could toss it off the glass and in before the buzzer.

There also needed to be enough time on the clock to allow for a miss and tip-in, which was only there because of the review on Al Horford’s (awful) foul on Jimmy Butler in the corner, where officials gave Butler the third free throw for having his feet behind the line, but also tacked on 0.9 seconds because they review for the first illegal contact on a foul, not when the whistle was actually blown, which happened with 3.0 seconds on the clock.

Without that extra second or the perfect spin out of the rim, White’s tip-in never has a chance and the Celtics are heading into the offseason off a horrible fourth quarter collapse and the Heat are headed to the Finals. We would spending today talking, again, about what changes might be on the horizon for Boston and whether running it back with this core is their best option, and previewing Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo vs. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.

Instead, the series is shifting back to Boston where the Celtics have a chance to make history as the first team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series — and Butler and the Heat are staring at being on the wrong end of a trivia question forever. It is a reminder of how incredibly thin the margins can be come playoff time. White’s tip-in, pending what happens in Game 7, could join Kevin Durant’s foot being on the line as recent examples of playoff “What If?” moments that shift legacies and change how teams and players are discussed.

Durant’s toe meant Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks went to overtime, where Milwaukee won en route to a championship. In that Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo shed all the questions about himself as a playoff performer, solidifying his legacy in the process. The Bucks, who somewhat ironically are making big changes this offseason because of losing in the first round to the Heat, might have made those changes two years ago instead had Durant kept his foot behind the line, with Giannis still chasing that elusive ring. It could’ve been Kevin Durant and the Nets that won a title, which might have meant their Big 3 with James Harden and Kyrie Irving doesn’t splinter the next season — and at the least, they are looked at far differently with a Finals appearance and possibly a ring for their troubles.

The ripple effect of these moments can be immense. In the immediate, Derrick White and the Celtics are simply happy to still be alive in this postseason, but his tip-in might be the difference in making this a legacy defining run for his star teammates rather than a failure that possibly led to major changes. Game 7 will determine whether White’s tip goes down in NBA Playoff lore or not, but if the Celtics finish the job, that 0.1 seconds will shift how we talk about three stars who weren’t even actively involved in the play itself — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Jimmy Butler — and serve as a reminder of how fragile playoff legacies can be.