The Celtics were still trailing early in the second quarter when Aaron Nesmith nearly upended himself trying to fly over Markieff Morris for an offensive rebound.
Nesmith didn’t get the carom but he did set the tone for a bench unit trying to navigate a stretch against the best team in the East with both Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown on the bench.
Nesmith, who blazed past Jimmy Butler on a little grab-and-go layup late in the first quarter, hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the second frame to help ignite Boston’s most inspired quarter of the season. Nesmith finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and three rebounds over 18 minutes, 18 seconds of floor time in Boston’s 95-78 statement win.
For those of us who have been waiting (somewhat impatiently) on Nesmith Island, it was validation to watch the second-year wing show again how he can impact a game with little more than energy and grit.
Making shots helps, too.
Nesmith combined with Romeo Langford (12 points, +25 in 27 minutes) and Dennis Schroder (14 points, 6 assists, team-best plus-26 in 30 minutes) to help Boston’s bench carry a Celtics team on the second night of a back-to-back. And a night when Tatum struggled yet again with his shot and Brown departed early with hamstring tightness.
"I’m always prepared,” said Nesmith. "So whenever my name is called, it’s not a shock to me just because I keep the same schedule every day. So whether I play or don’t play, I’m ready to play at all times.”
Call him Crash Nesmith for his breakneck approach to hunting rebounds and loose balls. Or dub him Stay-Ready Nesmith for being prepared for his opportunity. Whatever you want to call him, the Celtics need Nesmith's energy -- and his potential -- on the floor more often moving forward.
Last season, Nesmith played 135 possessions alongside Tatum and Brown. That trio had a plus-17.7 net rating in that span, including a sizzling offensive rating of 125.2. The Nesmith and Jays lineup shot a scorching 46.3 percent on all 3-point attempts.
And that’s why Nesmith needs to play, even if shots aren’t falling or if he commits a few defensive miscues. His ability to space the floor will loosen up defenses that have keyed on Tatum and Brown out of the gates of the 2021-22 season. And Nesmith is going to give maximum effort, even if there are times when veterans like Jimmy Butler will take advantage on his inexperience.
Nesmith has admitted his head was spinning early in the new season. Despite a solid showing at summer league and positive signs in exhibition play, he was overthinking everything at the start of the regular season.
He knows he needs to harness that intensity.
"Energy guy, energy player," said Nesmith. "As I play, the game will continue to slow down. So as the season goes on, it’ll just get slower and slower."
First-year head coach Ime Udoka has leaned heavy on a nine-man rotation that has put a squeeze on both Nesmith and fellow 2020 draftee Payton Pritchard. But Udoka remains confident in Nesmith.
"We watched him playing 5-on-5 and he’s knocking down shots, doing what he did all preseason and summer league, so it was just some [start of the year] jitters," said Udoka. "He’s a young guy that hasn't played a ton of basketball, and rushed some things early. It wasn’t just that he played poorly, it was other guys who played well ... So [Nesmith] got squeezed there for a little bit for some minutes but always have confidence in him. He’s a guy who we know can light it up, bring us a spark off the bench, and then being solid on defense is just an added bonus there."
Josh Richardson’s foot bruise opened a door on Thursday. Brown’s hamstring tightness could create time for Nesmith on Saturday if Brown isn’t recovered in time. But it’s on Udoka to find at least a decent chunk of minutes each game for Nesmith to continue his development.
It’s not only imperative because this Celtics team desperately needs what Nesmith offers but because, taking the 10,000-foot view, developing young talent is vital to whatever happens next with Boston. The team has to identify which of its youngest players are complementary pieces that Boston yearns to nurture alongside the Jays, and who is more likely to be moved in deals that could eventually deliver impact talent.
Like any young player, Nesmith is going to hit some rough patches. But, for the second straight year, he’s proven that he’ll stay ready and be ready when called upon. That diligence was rewarded last season as he embraced a heftier late-season role.
There’s no need to wait this time. Nesmith needs to be on the floor. He provides a little bit of what this team has clearly been missing to this point.