Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that it’s certainly not unusual for an NBA player to play hard and have a good work ethic. For the most part, those are job requirements. But on Sunday he also said it is clear that rookie Aaron Nesmith is in the upper tier of those two categories.
That’s part of the reason Stevens has felt comfortable giving Nesmith such a large opportunity over the past week, and part of the reason he is not surprised that Nesmith has thrived.
“And then I’d say the part that has been the most impressive to me over the last two games has been the fact that a guy can go from not playing that much from a conditioning standpoint, and play those long a stretches as hard as he did,” Stevens said. “That speaks to his work ethic on off days, it speaks to his preparation throughout the season. And he’s getting more comfortable. He still has a bunch of plays where he looks like he’s a step behind the play, but he makes up for it because of his effort.”
Nesmith had 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks in Wednesday’s win over the Hornets, then set a new career high with 16 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in Friday’s win over the Spurs. He was on the court for the entire fourth quarter of each game, and also played all of overtime on Friday. He had another strong game in Sunday’s 129-119 loss to the Trail Blazers, scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes and making all four of his 3-pointers.
“I’m really happy for him, and we needed that kind of a jolt from someone,” Stevens said, “and it’s been great that he’s been able to give it to us.”
On to the next game
The Celtics faced the Trail Blazers on Sunday just 48 hours after their thrilling win over the Spurs in which they clawed back from a 32-point deficit behind Jayson Tatum’s 60-point game. Stevens stressed that there was no time for a letdown, however, especially against a skilled Portland team. Tatum followed that performance with 33 points in Sunday’s loss.
“Hey, that’s part of the NBA,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to put whatever happened yesterday in the past and move on and focus and play well.”
Stevens recalled the December 2015 game in which his team nearly snapped the Warriors’ 27-game winning streak before falling in double overtime. The next night, the Celtics grabbed a road win in Charlotte.
“I’ll never forget that,” he said. “That told me so much about that team because of the toughness that it took to turn the page mentally, and you have to be able to do that. Whether it goes well or doesn’t go well, that’s part of the challenge of this league.”
Walker still on the mend
Celtics point guard Kemba Walker missed his fourth consecutive game because of an oblique strain. Stevens said that Walker has shown improvement and will ramp up his activity a bit on Monday with the intention of then taking part in Tuesday’s practice. The team is hopeful that he will be able to face the Magic on Wednesday.
“But we don’t know how he’ll turn out tomorrow after doing a little more today,” Stevens said.
Walker suffered the injury when he landed awkwardly after contesting a jump-shot during an April 25 loss to the Hornets. The Celtics immediately called timeout and Walker went directly to the locker room, but he returned to the game shortly thereafter. He has not played since then, however.