Short-handed yet again on Thursday — a regular occurrence of late for the Cs — and staring down the barrel of a potential four-game losing streak, the 21-year-old wing stepped up to the plate and delivered arguably the best game of his young NBA career.
With Kemba Walker on the mend due to a left oblique strain and Marcus Smart suspended for one game without pay after “directing threatening language toward a game official,” Nesmith was thrust into the Celtics’ rotation and responded with a breakout performance. The former No. 14 overall pick posted personal bests across the board in Boston’s nine-point victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, recording 15 points, nine rebounds, three steals and three blocks in 31-plus minutes (more than 11 minutes greater than his previous career-high in minutes).
Yet, while his statistics may jump off the screen, it was his fearlessness that caught the attention of his fellow Celtics teammates.
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Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown Praise Nesmith’s Spirited Play
“It’s incredible,” Jayson Tatum said of Nesmith’s aggressive, bold playstyle. “Aaron’s a guy who’s literally going to give his body up on every possession and run through a wall. He plays as hard as he can for as long as he’s out there, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. You need that from him, and we appreciate it.”
Fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown shared a similar take to Tatum’s, boasting about Nesmith’s relentlessness, no matter the situation at hand.
“Despite his situation, he came out and played extremely hard,” said Brown of the wing. “Whether it’s two minutes or 15, Aaron has played with the same level of passion all year. So it’s kudos to him because that’s hard to do. Especially coming out of college, playing a lot. Now you’re coming here, you’re not playing as much, there’s guys in front of you. It’s not as easy as it seems. But I think he’s handled it as good as anybody that I’ve seen.”
“He plays extremely hard. His energy is always good, whether he’s playing or not,” Brown added. “He works his ass off. He’s stepping into his opportunity and he’s playing well. I love having him on the floor. I know he makes mistakes sometimes, but he makes mistakes going 110 percent, and I’ll take that. I like having Aaron out there.”
Nesmith was asked by reporters about his somewhat reckless style of play and if he doesn’t care about getting hurt. He responded, “I definitely care… but 50-50 balls and balls on the ground, I’m going to get it 100% of the time,” via Yahoo’s Keith Smith.
Nesmith Answers the Bell
“We needed people to step up,” Nesmith said, pointing to the previously touched on absences of Smart and Walker. “And I just came in and tried to do the best that I could do.”
In terms of where his game is currently at, the Vanderbilt product admits he’s still developing with every game.
“I’m just continuing to learn the game, continuing to go out there and make the most of my opportunities, continuing to go out there and making plays,” he said. “And as long as I continue to do that, the game will continue to get easier and easier if I just go out there and do my job.”
Head coach Brad Stevens essentially echoed Nesmith’s comments in regards to his continued growth as a player.
“I think the biggest challenge for Aaron was the speed of the game when he first got here,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy who played basically 10 games last year, hadn’t played in a five-on-five game since January of the year before when he first got here. But he’s played hard, and he’s worked really hard at it. As he’s gotten more practice time and game minutes here, the difference between his play now and when we were putting him in in January and February is night and day.”
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