Brad Stevens praises an unsung hero in Celtics’ comeback to beat the Clippers

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Asher Low
·2 min read
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In the modern NBA game, the offensive side of the floor gets the attention. Shot clock violations don’t exactly pay the bills the way lobs and contested 30-footers do. Even in a league so laser-focused on the offensive end, there is still elite clutch defense to be found on a nightly basis.

On Friday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Celtics erased an 11-point halftime deficit with eight made threes in the third quarter. Yes, very 2021 NBA of them. While the shooting barrage led to a third quarter where Boston outscored the Clippers 38-20, it was fourth-quarter defense on Kawhi Leonard that sealed the 119-115 Celtics win.

If you check the box score, Semi Ojeleye’s night doesn’t exactly jump out. Going 2-8 from the field and just 1-6 from three to finish with five points isn’t an awe inspiring performance for the SMU product, but his final 30 seconds were game-changing.

With Leonard cooking for the Clippers despite the Celtics bringing constant double teams, Boston needed an answer for the MVP candidate. After Kemba Walker, who finished with 22 points on the night including 8 in the fourth quarter, gave Boston a 113-112 lead with a vintage mid-range jumper the Celtics needed a stop. With 32 seconds left and the Clippers in possession, Stevens subbed Ojeleye in to handle Leonard.

Ojeleye forced a difficult, off-balance jumper by walling off Leonard’s drive. His contest was enough to force a key miss. Speaking of contesting, when Leonard settled for a potential game-tying with 15 seconds left, Ojeleye once again had a hand in the face of the 2019 NBA Finals MVP.

Forcing the two biggest misses of the night while being fresh off the pine earned Ojeleye some well-deserved praise from his head coach:

While Jayson Tatum’s 40 points will stick out in the box score, Ojeleye made the plays that sealed Boston’s comeback win. It may not have been “the easiest thing in the world,” but the Celtics do-it-all forward was up to the challenge.