It is safe to say Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was not happy with his team heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The C’s had just come off what he called a “ridiculous” overtime loss against the Brooklyn Nets where Boston gave up 51 points in the fourth quarter after having an 18-point lead.
To add insult to injury, the Celtics had to play in Cleveland without three of their starters — Gordon Hayward left Tuesday’s game at halftime with a knee injury, Jaylen Brown injured his hamstring in the fourth quarter and Kemba Walker is currently on minutes restriction. Still, the Celtics were able to pull off a 112-106 win on the road on the second night of a back-to-back.
How did they do it? Insert Semi Ojeleye.
The third-year forward gave the C’s a boost off the bench with a career-high 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting and added six rebounds, two assists and one block in his 30 minutes of play. He has now scored double digits for third time this season.
“We knew Semi could do that on a daily basis for us,” Marcus Smart said after the game. “Every day he’s getting his shots up. He’s knocking down those shots in practice, warmups and everything. It was just all about his opportunity tonight. He got his opportunity and he took advantage of it.”
Prior to Wednesday, Ojeleye had gone scoreless in six of his last eight games, but his willingness to keep working hard encourages Stevens to keep calling his name.
“He’s the best,” Stevens said. “He’s a great worker, he’s a great teammate. When everything is not going your way, he’s a guy that you know is in everybody’s corner, and I think that that’s huge when you start talking about team. And you also know he can not play one night and be effective in his role the next.”
Jayson Tatum Continues to Thrive
Tatum had a spectacular February, being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month, and he has continued his hot streak Wednesday in his return from illness. Serving as the primary scorer against the Cavs, the now-22-year-old notched 32 points and 9 rebounds, marking the eighth time in 11 games he has scored at least 30.
Since his first NBA All-Star game, Tatum is averaging 33 points and shooting 50 percent after averaging 30.7 points during February. In the words of LeBron James, “the kid is special.”
Where Boston Stands Now
The C’s continue to sit in third place at 10.5 games behind the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks and one game behind the Toronto Raptors. Boston has been in a tight race with Toronto for the No. 2 seed, but the C’s are just 2.5 games ahead of the Miami Heat, who have won four-straight games.
Boston has its next two games at home against two good Western Conference teams on Friday and Sunday — the Utah Jazz, who have just won three in a row, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.