When it was announced that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Kendrick Perkins would not be playing in tonight's game, the game certainly lost a lot of its luster. It was clear early on that the game would be one large garbage-minutes game, with a few non-playoff rotation players getting significant minutes. Without the Big Three and Perkins, the Celtics lost to the Bucks, 106-95.
But was it a meaningless game for everyone involved? Nope.
Newly acquired guard Oliver Lafayette played in his first NBA game of his career tonight for the Boston Celtics, putting up seven points, four rebounds, and two assists in 22 minutes. Lafayette, sporting number zero, came in for the first time during the second quarter and then again in the fourth quarter. It was obviously an experience that he will never forget.
"The nervousness is really on the bench, once you enter the game it's just basketball now," said a smiling Lafayette after the game.
Lafayette went 3-6 from the field on the night, and hit the first three shots he took, including a three-pointer.
"It took a lot of nerves away hitting the first shot, you're not worrying about it anymore, just playing basketball and letting the game come to you," he said.
When he was taken out in the second quarter, he took a seat next to fellow Louisiana native Glen Davis, and Ray Allen. It was then that Allen began talking to him about what he noticed of his play on the court.
"Just guiding me with the game- teaching me pointers," said Lafayette of Allen's tips from the bench. "He's a good teacher. I know the guys love to have him because he teaches everything- how to slide up, where to be, where to get your shot at, how to push up on your man when you're playing defense and everything. He's just a good teacher."
Lafayette, a guard out of Houston has been in the D-League for the past two seasons. He has certainly had his ups and downs along the way.
"I had a great career in Houston, so not making it to the league, it really hurt," Lafayette remembers. "At the same time you got to keep on fighting, and keep your dreams ahead."
Lafayette got his first chance with the Erie Bay Hawks of the D-League. He broke his wrist during that season and had to rehab it. He returned to the team for the playoffs, but didn't do so well. At that point he knew he was going back to the D-League.
During that offseason Lafayette was hard at work improving his game, but it wasn't enough as he was waived by the Bay Hawks. The next day, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants picked him up and put him at his regular position at point guard instead of shooting guard.
"Ever since then, I've been playing good," admitted Lafayette. "I have more confidence in my regular position instead of the two-guard (SG) just because I can shoot."
In 48 games for Fort Wayne, Lafayette averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.8 steals while shooting 38% from the three-point range. In the last seven games of the season, Lafayette averaged 26.2 points, 8.0 assists and 6.4 rebounds, earning him Co-Performer of the Week honors for the last week of the season.
One of those impressive games was against the Maine Red Claws, a game in which Danny Ainge was in attendance for. Clearly Ainge liked what he saw because it wasn't long after that he would sign Lafayette. The news was a pleasant surprise for Lafayette, who was driving home in Louisiana at the time.
"I was coming from New Orleans coming back home to Baton Rouge. My agent was like, ‘Guess what?' I was like, ‘What?' He was like, ‘You got called up to the Celtics.' I was like, ‘Nah you're playing, stop playing like that! Come on man, what do you have to tell me?' He's like, ‘No, for real.'"
"I mean it's not good to test someone when they're driving, they get excited," Lafayette joked. "I had to pull over for a little while and thank God and everything like that."
Lafayette hopped on a plane the next morning, passed his physical, and started shooting. It is highly unlikely that Lafayette will touch the floor for the Celtics during the playoffs, but just getting to play tonight was a dream come true, and a major step in the right direction.
This isn't where it ends for Lafayette. By signing the contract with the Celtics, Lafayette is guaranteed a spot on a Celtics Summer League roster with the hopes of landing a spot on the team's regular season roster next season. With a possible vacancy at the backup PG position next season, is it Lafayette's job to lose?