One of the primary criticisms against this iteration of the Boston Celtics — aside from their penchant for collapsing late and/or giving away games, of course — is that they’ve been unable or unwilling to develop their young stars. The youthful quartet of Grant Williams, Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, and Payton Pritchard has experienced uneven returns this season. Despite increased minutes in some cases, and a bump in shot attempts for a few of the whippersnappers, the people just want more. And who can blame them? When you’ve been spoiled with the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown developing at the speed of light before your eyes, you can’t help but clamor for the same from the other young guns.
Efforts like the one we saw from Aaron Nesmith on Monday may not do the trick in terms of putting the ball in the basket, seeing that he scored just five points on 2-of-4 shooting, with all five points coming in the second half. But it was his defensive impact that really did the trick. Between that and his constant energy on both ends, Ime Udoka had plenty to be pleased about following his team’s 104-92 comeback win, fueled in part by Nesmith’s reckless abandon.
“Defensively, we were solid overall, but offensively, the ball wasn’t moving as much, we weren’t getting downhill, and he brings energy and effort on every play at both ends of the floor,” Udoka said of Nesmith’s impact. “It was really his energy in the first half. We were searching for something with the guys we brought in, and in the second half, he really got it going with that unit.”
Playing alongside Dennis Schröder, Jayson Tatum, Enes Freedom, and one of either Jaylen Brown or Josh Richardson for much of the game’s second half, Nesmith was vital in a number of disciplines. He crashed the boards effectively, to the tune of six rebounds, and per Udoka’s point, he was vital when it came to ball movement. Though he finished with no assists and no secondary dimes, he received 10 passes and made 20, contributing to a number of finished possessions. That’s a bright spot, considering the fact that the team has become a bit too familiar with empty ones.
Nesmith’s impact has always stretched far beyond your typical box score statistics, but yesterday afternoon’s outing is probably the best recent example. He turned in a plus-17 individual plus/minus in 15 second-half minutes; Boston outscored 65-46 in those final two quarters. Though he was ineffective in four-and-a-half minutes in the first half, he ended up playing 19 total minutes, the most time he’s seen since mid-December. Boston’s comeback didn’t hinge on the sophomore’s effort, but Nesmith was certainly an integral part of it all.
“He was guarding well, he was rebounding well,” Udoka said postgame. “Whether shots fall or not, the energy and intensity that he brought changed the game with that group, so we rode them longer. He’s a guy who hasn’t played as much so he can play a little heavier stint there, and I thought those guys finished it out great. We don’t love overplaying guys that many minutes, but that group was rolling and we stayed with it in the fourth quarter.”
Nesmith spent most of his time on defense guarding Josh Hart, who scored a single point while Nesmith was lined up across from him. And Nesmith allowed just two shot attempts, with only one of them falling. He was a defensive stalwart, as is per usual when he receives the proper minutes. While that hasn’t been the case for Nesmith this season, perhaps more outings like these will prove pivotal for him, and for the Celtics moving forward.
“I can only imagine how tough it is to not always get an opportunity, but one thing we can count on is when he comes in the game, he’s gonna compete, he’s gonna do the little things,” Jayson Tatum said of Nesmith. “Regardless of if shots are going in or not, he’s gonna come in and compete. And then when he’s hitting shots and getting deflections, that’s just a plus. So when Aaron came in and gave us a big boost off the bench, it really changed the flow of the game.”