Aaron Nesmith probably left TD Garden on cloud nine after his performance Wednesday night.
Playing a career-high 31 minutes off the bench for the Boston Celtics, he also reached new basketball heights in scoring (15 points), rebounds (nine), blocks (three) and steals (three), with his defensive effort standing out the most.
And in a 120-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets that was closer than it should have been, it was the rookie’s energy plays that kept the Celtics afloat through a murky third and fourth quarter.
“Great kid, he plays extremely hard,” teammate Jaylen Brown said after Nesmith’s breakout game. “His energy is always good whether he’s playing or not. He works his ass off and is stepping into his opportunities, and he’s playing well. He plays hard, I love having him on the floor. I know he makes mistakes sometimes but he makes mistakes going 100% — and I’ll take that. I like having Aaron out there, he plays extremely hard, and then he can shoot the ball when he gets going too. And he guards. Aaron had a great game for us tonight.”
In a game when Boston missed Marcus Smart’s fire as he served a one-game suspension for just that, Nesmith was there to step up and put his body on the line.
It even earned him the Tommy Award.
“I’m just going out there 110% and trying to make any effort plays that I can, cause I know every team needs effort plays. Effort plays, 50/50 balls, you know, that’s what wins balls games,” Nesmith said. “So I’m gonna go out there and I put my body on the line in order to make a play happen.”
That effort doesn’t go unnoticed from his teammates, either.
“It’s incredible. He’s going to literally give up his body every night,” Jayson Tatum said. “He’ll run through a wall. We need that and we appreciate him.”
Two back-to-back blocks and a big 3-pointer were clutch in the fourth quarter, helping him become the first Celtics rookie to accumulate 15 points, three steals and three blocks in one single game since this guy named Paul Pierce.
And we’ll remind you, Nesmith hasn’t had much warming up to this point.
“I mean, It’s refreshing, you know, despite his situation he’s come out and played extremely hard,” Brown said. “And whether it’s two minutes or 15, Aaron has played with that same level of passion all year. So that’s kudos to him because that’s hard to do, especially coming out of college, playing a lot. Now you come in here, you’re not playing as much, there’s guys in front of you, it’s not as easy as it seems. I think he’s handled it as good as anybody that I’ve seen. But yeah, I just want him to be careful.”
Beyond coming into a crowded situation on the depth chart, Nesmith also hasn’t played much considering his college season was cut short and there was no NBA summer league for younger players to ramp up.
His coach believes that speaks to Nesmith’s maturity, and it was rewarded Wednesday night with playing time.
“I’ve said before that he’s mature beyond his age with his work ethic and his desire to be good,” Brad Stevens said. “We need his continued growth. We need guys like Aaron to take that next step and he’s doing a good job.”
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