BOSTON — No one saw it coming. Perhaps that’s why it worked so well.
All the attention was on Marcus Smart prior to the Boston Celtics’ Game 5 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, but it was Brad Stevens who stole the show at TD Garden. Coming off two straight losses in Milwaukee to tie the first-round NBA playoff series, Stevens knew he had to change something up to give his team an edge.
Enter: Semi Ojeleye.
Stevens inserted the rookie forward into the starting lineup Tuesday night, sliding Al Horford into the five and moving Aron Baynes to the bench.
Ojeleye didn’t add much offensively during his 31 minutes on the floor in the C’s 92-87 win, but he made his presence felt on the defensive end. The SMU product drew the assignment of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and performed admirably, holding the 23-year-old phenom to 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
“Yeah, I mean, Giannis is a heck of a player,” Stevens said after the game. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. Not going to hold him down, by any means. He makes plays for other people (and) he’s very unselfish if he’s not the one scoring. But we just felt like we needed a little more ball pressure overall and so that was the decision to go smaller.
“Semi is a guy that’s been a versatile defender for us all year, and that’s a tall task to ask a guy to guard Giannis the whole night.”
Stevens’ adjustment gave the Celtics the ability to match up easier with the small-ball Bucks, allowing them to hedge on screens while getting back to their man quicker. The switch also seemed to give Boston a different Horford: The All-Star played more downhill and was more aggressive, notching a 22-point, 14-rebound performance.
“I just think that it gives our team a different look,” Horford said after the game. “You know, one of the strengths of our group is that we have multiple guys that can play multiple positions and, you know, the Bucks had us against the wall. They beat us twice over there, we needed to make an adjustment. We needed to do something and coach saw that and he went with his gut. That and a combination of Marcus Smart I think played well for us tonight.”
The playoffs are all about adjustments. Stevens flipped the script Tuesday by inserting Ojeleye into the starting lineup and that chess move tilted the series in the Celtics’ favor.
Your move, Bucks coach Joe Prunty.
Thumbnail photo via Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports Images