clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Derrick White and Ime Udoka shine in Game 1 of the Finals

The Spurs might not have made the playoffs, but they are still well represented in the biggest stage.

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Derrick White had a great Game 1 against the Warriors and has had a very solid postseason. Does his performance in the playoffs make you think the Spurs were wrong to trade him?

Mark Barrington: I’m happy for Derrick, and I think he’s in the right place to shine. I think the Spurs trading him to the Celtics was painful, but it’s always painful to give up a good player. In the short run, the Celtics (and Derrick) are winning this trade, but the Spurs got younger players and draft picks that fit their rebuilding timeline.

Bruno Passos: Context plays a huge role for most players, but especially those that aren’t stars. In Boston, Derrick’s able to serve as an offensive connector that makes unselfish, heady plays and the presence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown caps what you depend on him from on that end of the floor. In San Antonio, he was used (and paid) like a key player on a roster that lacked top-end complementary talent on offense, and it was evident that the team as constructed could only go so far. He was by no means the problem, but ended up being one of the easier fixes that returned the Spurs a few assets and helped them make a bit more sense of the other guys on the team.

Jesus Gomez: The trade would have been bad if the Spurs had done it because they thought White wasn’t a good player, but that’s not why it happened. He was just the oldest of the “young” guys and had enough market value to bring back a good haul for a team that needs assets to rebuild.

At the same time, when teams trade players for picks, this type of question tends to arise in the immediate aftermath. The 25th pick has not suited up for San Antonio yet and could be a bust, so watching White play a big role in the Finals is going to cause some to have second thoughts about the move. It’s natural. Focusing solely on the process is tough. Fortunately there’s Josh Richardson’s play in the stretch run to remind people that while the move is all about the future, the Spurs didn’t really lose much in 2021/22 either from the trade.

Noah Magaro-George: The Spurs were absolutely right to trade Derrick at the deadline. Not only did they free rotational minutes for Lonnie Walker IV and Josh Primo to show what they can do in more defined roles, but they gained draft capital and a potentially invaluable 2028 first-round pick swap. White was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this midseason deal as he has thrived in a reduced role for the Celtics that has provided him a more complementary context. San Antonio probably asked too much of Derrick on a nightly basis out of necessity, but head coach Ime Udoka has the luxury of employing the six-four guard as a role player. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown allow him to function as a connective tissue playmaker instead of a secondary fulcrum, and the presence of Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III has only made his borderline elite defense more impactful. Everyone walked away from this a winner.

J.R. Wilco: Derrick was one of my favorite Spurs of the last 10 years, but whatever postseason success he experiences in Boston is entirely separate from whether he should have stayed in San Antonio. The Spurs haven’t been to the playoffs in two years, and that was with White. Seeing him go to a place where he can use his talents to benefit a contender is a pleasure. The fact that it came at the expense of Golden State is merely icing on the cake.

Ime Udoka has led his team to the Finals and won Game 1 on the road. Good look for Pop’s coaching tree or bad look for the Spurs for letting him go?

Barrington: It’s great for the Spurs organization. Both head coaches in the finals have Spurs connections, and other Spurs assistants are doing well in the NBA and WNBA, with Becky Hammon setting records in Las Vegas. When Udoka left the Spurs in 2019 to join Brett Brown’s (another former Pop assistant) staff on the Sixers, it was a chance to prepare to become a head coach, and it directly led to his being hired by the Celtics. It’s kind of like Phoebe said on Friends—a career is like a shark, it has to keep moving forward to survive. I may not have that exactly right, but Pop has always promoted the careers of people that work in the Spurs organization, and knows that holding people back isn’t good for them or the organization.

Passos: It always reflects well on the Spurs’ eye for talent and internal development when Udoka or Steve Kerr or Taylor Jenkins or James Borrego (fired unjustly!) excel at the next level. That’s how these things are supposed to work. Unless you think one in particular should’ve taken the reins and that Pop should’ve exited stage left, there’s not really anything else the organization can do but write them a reference letter and wish them the b— wait, did Mark just make a Friends reference?

Magaro-George: Although every organization wants to retain as much in-house talent as possible, the best franchises understand the inevitability that their most promising employees move on for better opportunities. Gregg Popovich is the proud owner of a coaching tree that spreads across nearly every inch of the NBA like the expansive root system of a Colorado Aspen. Whether they played for or coached under the legendary playcaller, the success of his former pupils is astounding. Steve Kerr is a three-time champion, Mike Budenholzer took home the league title a year ago, Monty Williams won coach of the year this season, and Ime Udoka has led his ball club to the finals in his first go-round at the helm. How can you look at that and have anything but positive thoughts?

Gomez: It’s a weirdly similar situation to the one with White. Right now, watching coaches with connections to the franchise like Udoka thrive while Pop reportedly contemplates retirement, the temptation to engage in what-ifs is huge. Have the Spurs let go of the right heir to the big seat? It feels possible. At the same time, timing is everything. Just like White didn’t fit the timeline and needed to leave to truly reach his potential, the same is probably true of all those assistants who are now succeeding elsewhere. The hope is that when Pop does retire, the Spurs will find the right one for them, just like the Celtics did with Ime and Ross did with Rachel in the hit television show Friends.

Wilco: It’s a good look for Pop’s coaching tree which is beginning to resemble more an aspen grove/forest/thingy. Not sure how it could ever be a bad thing unless Pop had promised one of his assistants his job by a specific date and then reneged — and I’ve never heard anyone say they thought that had happened.

The Warriors have a huge advantage when it comes to experience. Do you think they are worried right now?

Barrington: In this case, experience might be overrated. The Celtics have played a ton of games in this year’s playoffs, and they’re battle tested. Thursday’s game didn’t play out like I expected, because I thought the Celtics would slow down the Warriors with physical defense, but instead, they played the Warriors game by bombing three point shots. The Boston defense finally showed up in the last eight minutes of the game where they shut down the Warriors offense and closed out the win.

The playoffs this year have been marked with huge swings from game to game, so I don’t believe that this series is in any way over, but the next game is almost a must-win for the Warriors now. If they go down 0-2 to the Celtics heading into Boston, they’re not going back to San Francisco. I don’t understand why Iguodala was playing so much in Game 1, but I don’t think they can do that for the rest of the series. He has a ton of finals experience, but not a lot else at this point in his career. I’m not sure why Kuminga hardly played in the first game, as he’s been great in the playoffs so far, and his benching seems weird to me, since he would be more able to bang with the Celtics frontcourt than the superannuated Iguodala.

Passos: They’ll be a little less shaken up than other teams in their situation but it’d be silly to not be at least a little more concerned. The margin of error is that much slimmer and they’ll have to at least win one in Boston now against a team that a) has looked like the sharpest in the league for months and b) has gotten the best of them for a while now. As good as Golden State has been, they’re not the same inevitability that they were a few years ago — their powers come as much from nightly discipline and finding a slightly different formula each night as anything, and you see that in the form of Draymond Green being overleveraged or in some of the weird lineups Steve Kerr throws out there to try and match a well-balanced opponent.

Magaro-George: Given all their experience and championship pedigree, Golden State is likely less rattled than most teams would be in this circumstance. With that in mind, the Warriors are no longer the unstoppable force they once were, so they can’t afford to coast for long stretches hoping a stacked roster will promise them a victory. They looked a little complacent after Steph Curry effortlessly dropped 21 points in the first quarter, and it felt like they took their foot off the gas despite building multiple double-digit leads. This rendition of the Warriors must be more reliant on execution, adjustments, and attention to detail if they want to knock off a resilient Boston squad that has arguably been the best team since the All-Star break.

Gomez: I don’t think they are sweating the loss too much, although they probably should. They not only have great players, but guys who are so confident that they border on arrogant. When Draymond Green says that they will be fine, because they outplayed Boston for over 40 minutes, I believe that he thinks that. The question is, will that experience and confidence help them by allowing them to play loose, or will it lead them to underrate how good Boston is, until they have their backs against the wall? Both scenarios are possible, and how it all plays out it’s a fascinating subplot of the Finals.

Wilco: Worried is too strong a word to use for a battle-tested squad like the Warriors. But for anyone hoping for a Golden State title, Thursday night was worrying. The home team had the game in hand until Boston’s late game GSW impersonation resulted in a 42-16 run that turned a rout of the visitors into the a Celtics blowout win. I say worrying because Boston didn’t win with a superior defensive performance, they outgunned the Dubs. Whether we can expect that to be consistent throughout the series is less important, because we already know that the Celtics are able to win with their defense — somethings that’s easier to do once teams get used to each other and easy shots are harder to come by.