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Brad Stevens on Jabari Parker’s Celtics debut: “pretty good for his first night”

For a guy who hadn’t played in months, it didn’t take long for Jabari Parker to make a significant impact.

Golden City Warriors v Boston Celtics Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

After signing with the Celtics the previous day, Jabari Parker was quickly given the chance to make an impact in the first quarter against the visiting Golden State Warriors. The early returns offered the kind of inconsistencies that have plagued a career that hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Upon checking into the game with under five minutes remaining in the opening quarter, Parker immediately turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, first by trying to hit Marcus Smart on the opposite wing before fumbling a pass after cutting through the paint the next time down.

He crashed the offensive glass hard enough to come away with two rebounds and four points. He also allowed Juan Toscano-Anderson to easily blow by him on the baseline for a reverse layup, which Jeff Van Gundy immediately pointed out as an aspect Parker needed to work on.

Parker no doubt had some rust to shake off having played fewer than 30 minutes across the entire season, but he wasn’t looking for a new home this late into the season by accident. He’s played on four teams in the last three years for a reason. Which is to say that as notable a signing as the former No. 2 overall pick was, Parker’s antiquated offensive style and severe defensive limitations should’ve tempered expectations about what his role could be in Boston.

With a noticeably thin bench in the absence of Jaylen Brown, Evan Fournier, and Robert Williams, Brad Stevens gave Parker a shot early on. But in a close game whose intensity only grew as it progressed, it was hard to envision Stevens finding any more chances to offer the newest Celtic in his debut.

Except, that’s exactly what Stevens did, inserting Parker back into a four-point game with 3:01 left in the third. What followed until the 6:09 mark of the fourth wasn’t as vital to Boston’s 119-114 victory as Jayson Tatum’s 44 points, Kemba’s 26, or Smart’s timely plays, but it was quite the addition to help a depleted team win its sixth straight game.

By Stevens’ own admission, Boston lacked a scoring punch to start the fourth quarter. Tatum and Walker missed their first shots of the frame as the Warriors scored five unanswered to take a five-point lead with Stephen Curry on the bench.

After making just one of their first four shots to open the quarter, Stevens called a timeout and set up a play for Parker, who had established some momentum with three points in three minutes to finish out the third. He carved out a post up just outside the restricted area before going to work against Kevon Looney.

Amid the constant team switching as well as two ACL surgeries, it’s easy to forget how easily Parker can put the ball in the basket at times. He’s had that footwork and mid-range touch going back to his lone season at Duke.

Going as small as Boston did is always risky, but Tristan Thompson needed a breather, Williams was inactive, and Luke Kornet was a minus-6 in the five and a half minutes he saw in the second quarter. So, Stevens opted for skill and made sure to take advantage of it to jumpstart the offense. Boston hit three of its next five shots to take a one-point lead before Parker was subbed out for Thompson.

“Well, we went through that stretch at the start of the fourth quarter where we needed to score,” Stevens said. “He (Parker) gave us some opportunities there both in the first half and the second when he played on the baseline and played to his strengths and did a lot of good things.”

Parker finished his Celtic debut 5-of-6 from the field for 11 points in 16 minutes, a helpful scoring punch in the absence of Brown and Fournier. More impressive than the total in the scoring column was how it came to be with four offensive rebounds leading to eight of those points.

“We just tell him to go out there and play as hard as you can,” Smart said of his newest teammate. “Everything else will fall into it. We will work you into the plays and we’ll walk you through them. Don’t worry about that. Just go play hard.”

His effort was particularly rewarded in the fourth quarter, where a swindling of Kent Bazemore left him in a perfect position to clean up a Smart airball and give Boston the lead back.

On a team that, when healthy, doesn’t lack players who can put the ball in the basket themselves, the Celtics don’t need Parker to revitalize a fallen career that pegged him as the next great scorer back in 2014. They need exactly what they got in his debut: energy and effort to contribute to the flow of the game without trying to overtake it.

That mentality is what helped him rebound from an iffy start in his first minutes to turning heads in the final stretch. It’s also what will ultimately define the latest stop in a career that’s been in search of stability for several years now. With Boston trying to keep pace with the juggernauts of the East, Stevens sounds more than happy to offer Parker the opportunity to help this team.

“He’ll pick up our defense as time goes on and we gotta figure out how to best play with him on both ends,” Stevens said. “But pretty good for his first night.”

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