BOSTON -- Even after an impressive double-double performance, Jonas Jerebko's impact still goes beyond the box score. Jerebko's shooting, spacing, and rebounding were clearly effective, but his versatile defense was just as integral to Boston's 111-103 Game 3 victory over the Hawks.
The Celtics fell down 2-0 in the series largely due to Atlanta's speedy point guards. But on Friday, Jerebko locked down both Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. The pair shot just 2 for 9 when defended by the Swedish Larry Bird.
At 6-foot-10, Jerebko traditionally defends forwards and bigs, but his foot speed enables him to switch onto quicker players. In the clip above, he gets matched onto Schroder, who tested him by forcing a drive. But Jerebko is swift enough laterally to stay in front and long enough to drape over him to heavily contest the shot.
"He plays really, really, hard. He's got versatility with regard to defense," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the game. "It's really hard to switch onto Teague and Schroder, but all of our bigs have to do that some as they get going downhill on you."
Teague in particular has been a problem for the Celtics. He's averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 assists, but Jerebko turned him into a pull-up jump shooter. Teague can still kill you with his shot, but it's a much preferable option to death by paint penetration.
Watch how Jerebko prevents Teague from getting into the teeth of the defense by quickly moving his feet and sagging off. That baited him into a jumper, and Teague obliged with a three that clanked off the back of the rim.
The Celtics had a terrific 95.4 defensive rating with Jerebko on the floor against the Hawks and a tremendous +16.2 net rating.
"It kind of worked pretty good today, but I think we can do a lot better," a humble Jerebko said after the game. "He got a couple easy buckets on me and so did Schroder, so that's something I got to look at the video and take away in the next game."
After Jerebko looks at the video, he'll come away impressed. And so will Brad Stevens, since a switching, versatile defense should be a fixture in their lineups going forward.
That's perhaps the greater implication of their style of play tonight: as if it hasn't been clear all season long, the Celtics are highly effective when they play small and switch as many screens as possible. Stevens went as far to use a frontcourt with Jerebko at center and Jae Crowder at power forward late in the game, which allowed the Celtics to switch almost all screens on the floor.
"It helps a lot. It goes back to last year because I think we ran that lineup a lot last year," Isaiah Thomas said when asked about the Jerebko-Crowder frontcourt. "We were very successful in making teams adjust to us on both ends. Jonas is a versatile player that can guard multiple positions."
Going back to last season, the Celtics have a +27.5 Net Rating (131.7 offensive rating, 104.2 defensive rating) in 167 possessions with that pairing, according to NBAWowy.com. The Celtics used it again over the final 2:15 and outscored the Hawks 6-2.
"We can actually push up and be more aggressive [when we play a switching defense]," Marcus Smart said of the small ball lineup. "It keeps us honest. We don't have to help as much off-ball since we're switching. That's big for our team. That's our biggest attribute of our team, our versatility."
It's not a lineup the Celtics can use often. But since it allows them to switch almost every screen action, it does deter opponents from running their preferred style of offense. If Friday's win is any indication, then the Celtics should consider using it increasingly going forward. That could lead to big things for Jonas Jerebko, who has already proven the last two seasons that he's capable of handling the responsibility.