BOSTON – You never know when your number is going to be called.
It’s the kind of coach-speak that players hear all the time, on all levels of play.
But when it comes to the Boston Celtics, it’s a way of life that is deeply woven into who they are as an organization.
That’s why the emergence of a bench player into a role of prominence, barely raises an eyebrow anymore.
But make no mistake about it.
Performances like the one put on Thursday night by Semi Ojeleye are not taken for granted.
When called upon to play a larger role due to Jaylen Brown (right foot) not being able to play, Ojeleye rose to the occasion and delivered one of his best scoring nights as a Celtic in helping Boston hold on for a 117-113 win over the Bucks and in doing so, became Boston's latest 'Next man up' success story.
Never mind the fact that he scored a season-high 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, and that it was only the third time in his 96-game playing career (that includes the playoffs) that he reached double figures scoring.
Ojeleye more than anything else, was a presence; the kind of presence that speaks to Boston’s depth which the Celtics have maintained will have to be a dominant theme for their club to have the kind of success this season they believe they are capable of.
Of course, Ojeleye’s primary reason for being in the starting lineup in place of Brown, was because of his defense which has matched up well against Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo had a game-high 33 points, but only nine of those points came when he was guarded by Ojeleye who defended him on 24 possessions – more than any other Celtics player.
“Giannis is a tough cover,” said Ojeleye who added, “It was a joint effort to try and (contain) him.”
And while not having Brown available certainly didn’t help Boston’s chances, the Celtics can breathe a little easier knowing they have a player like Ojeleye who can fill in at the last minute and not be overwhelmed by the opportunity to start against one of the league's most dynamic scoring threats in Antetokounmpo.
We saw glimpses of that during his rookie season a year ago.
In fact, it was an early regular season win over the Bucks that seemed to open the eyes of many to the defensive potential of the 6-foot-6 Ojeleye.
Similar to last night’s game, Boston found itself in a back-and-fourth tussle with the Bucks while Antetokounmpo doing some amazing things.
Ojeleye defended him for a few stretches early on, as well as lengthier stint down the stretch. In the fourth quarter of that game, Antetokounmpo missed three of the four field goal attempts he took when guarded by Ojeleye.
That success led to more opportunities down the road which included his first career starts coming in the playoffs against the Bucks.
Coach Brad Stevens has shown no hesitation, whether it’s in the regular season or playoffs, to turn to Ojeleye.
“I think everybody here knows what I think about Semi,” said Stevens who added, “and you know, whether he starts or doesn’t play, he’s the first guy in the gym the next day working, and he’s a really, really good teammate. And he was ready to be called upon again, which is, I think, is one of the hardest things to do when you’re a guy who’s playing sporadically.”
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