The Celtics defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the NBA during the regular season, had mostly been gashed over the first four games of their opening-round series against the Bucks.
Boston coach Brad Stevens decided before Game 5 that he needed a lineup capable of putting more ball pressure on Giannis Antetokounmpo and friends, so he made a somewhat surprising switch, inserting rookie forward Semi Ojeleye in place of Aron Baynes. Ojeleye did not start any games during the regular season.
“Giannis is a heck of a player,” Stevens said. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. You’re not going to hold him down by any means. He makes plays for other people, he’s very unselfish if he’s not the one scoring. But we just felt like we needed a little bit more ball pressure overall, and so that was the decision to go smaller. Semi is a guy who has been a versatile defender for us all year, and that’s a tall task, to ask a guy to guard Giannis the whole night.”
Ojeleye did the job quite well. Tasked with guarding Antetokounmpo for much of the night, he helped hold the All-Star to 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Antetokounmpo has scored less than 15 points just four times this season, and he has attempted fewer than 10 shots just twice.
Ojeleye said he found out about his probable assignment on Tuesday morning, but that it was not finalized until about 25 minutes before tipoff. He said the message was simple.
“Just try to make it tough on Giannis as a scorer,” Ojeleye said. “He’s a tough player and a tough matchup for a lot of guys. Just trying to make it as tough as possible. He made a lot of tough shots.”
Ojeleye also finished with 5 points and 7 rebounds.
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell has scored 110 points over his team’s first four playoff games against the Thunder, the most for a rookie since Michael Jordan scored 117 in his first four games of the 1985 playoffs.
Celtics guard Terry Rozier, who hosted Mitchell during his recruiting visit to the University of Louisville in 2015, said it has been a joy to see the dynamic guard soar this season.
“He’s amazing,” Rozier said. “I love watching him. He’s one of my favorite players to watch in the NBA. The stuff he does is just like stuff you work on actually working out in the gym. He applies it in the game, and it’s just good to see his growth. He’s one of the guys that when he came on his visits, I took care of him, and now he’s doing his thing in the league. That’s always good to see. You know your Louisville family, doing what he’s doing, it’s just good. I’m happy for him.”
Award for Irving
Before Tuesday’s game, point Kyrie Irving was given the Red Auerbach Award, which is annually given to the Celtics player or coach who best exemplifies the spirit of what it means to be a Celtic through exceptional performance on and off the court . . . Game 6 will air Thursday night at 8 on TNT.