SAN FRANCISCO -- Look back at the Warriors' 22-point loss to the Boston Celtics on March 16, and it's clear who the X-factor was. Celtics center Robert Williams had eight points, nine rebounds, four blocks and was a plus-12. He was a defensive menace, blocking Jordan Poole twice, Otto Porter once, as well as Jonathan Kuminga.
Even when the Warriors beat Boston by four points on December 17, Williams was a plus-9 with seven points and 11 rebounds. But that was a different version of Williams.
He underwent meniscus surgery in late March and hasn't been the same. Williams has been dealing with lingering issue in that surgically-repaired knee, and has missed seven games this postseason, though he has played in the last four.
If he's healthy, he certainly could shift the series. But if not, a different Celtic might have that ability.
Ranking the top 15 players in Celtics-Warriors series
Derrick White was one of the most underrated acquisitions at the NBA trade deadline this year. The Celtics added the 6-foot-4 guard for Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson and draft picks, and he has been a difference-maker for Boston when it counts. Steve Kerr coached White on Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and is well aware of what he brings to the table.
"Yeah, I coached Derrick in the World Cup a couple summers ago, so I know him pretty well," Kerr said Monday to reporters. "Really, really good two-way player, combo-guard. I think he added a lot their team when he was traded there. That was a really good pickup for them. Another ball-handler, another passer, another guy to help get them organized.
"And he's been playing a key role in the playoffs. He's had some really good games for them."
White in the playoffs is averaging 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, shooting 38 percent from the field and 27.6 percent on 3-pointers. However, he was a different player down the stretch of the Eastern Conference finals.
In the final four games against the Miami Heat, White averaged 14.3 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.8 rebounds. He also shot 45.5 percent from the field and 35 percent from long distance. As Kerr commented, White isn't a one-dimensional player.
Over his last four games, he also averaged 2.0 steals and one block. He had three steals in Game 4, two in Game 5, three again in Game 6 and then didn't record one in Game 7. He blocked one shot in each of the final four games.
Just look at what he did to the Heat foursome of Kyle Lowry, Max Strus, Victor Oladipo and Duncan Robinson.
Let's be real now: Draymond Green was right. The Celtics have more firepower than the Heat, which is one big reason why they're in the Finals. The Warriors' weapons also are more dangerous than those of Miami, and White's job now is a whole lot tougher. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole are a different ballgame than the above four.
White played the Warriors three times this season. The first two were with the Spurs, the final as a member of the Celtics. In his first game against the Warriors this season, a five-point Spurs win, White scored 25 points -- his second-highest of the season -- along with three assists and three steals. He was a plus-13. Two months later, he dropped 16 points, made four 3-pointers and dished seven assists. The Warriors won by four.
But the last time White played the Warriors, his only time with the Celtics so far, he was held scoreless over 22 minutes off the bench. He went 0 for 8 from the field and miss all five of his 3-point attempts. The Warriors sagged off White, opted to double-team bigger threats than worry about him scoring three points, and felt comfortable with lesser defenders guarding him. They begged White to beat them and would have lived with an outcome of him burning.
It's a similar strategy the Warriors went with in the last two rounds against the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks. It worked three months ago on White, too.
He didn't answer the challenge.
What version of White will show up in the Finals? The Celtics have a thin bench and lean heavily on White being a playmaker and energizer once he enters the game. His consistency will be key, and could easily swing the series one way or the other.