Ojeleye’s Magical Effort vs. Orlando Earns High Praise from Teammates
It was no shocker to see Jaylen Brown pace the Celtics in scoring Friday night, as the star wing poured in a game-high 21 points to help lead Boston to a 124-97 win over the Orlando Magic. What may have been a surprise, however, was seeing who finished right behind him in the scoring column – Semi Ojeleye.
Throughout his four seasons with the Celtics, Ojeleye has never had a consistent role, but he has always been ready to step up when called upon. So on Friday night, when a Jayson Tatum-less Celtics team was in need of a scoring boost, Ojeleye eagerly stepped into that role.
The result: 18 points (including 13 during the fourth quarter) on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, six rebounds, three 3-pointers, and zero turnovers, all in less than 21 minutes of action.
It was an inspiring effort, especially to Brown, who witnesses and admires Ojeleye’s outstanding work ethic every day.
“I work hard, let me just say that first and foremost,” Brown said after the game. “And Semi probably works harder than me. Semi is a hard-working guy, man. And I’ve seen it for the last four seasons. I’ve seen him continue to get better. I’ve seen things not go his way. I’ve seen him not play minutes. And I’ve seen him get frustrated at times. But Semi can play basketball, man. And I’m glad he had a game like this so other people can start to see.”
It was without a doubt the best performance of the season for Ojeleye, but it certainly was not his only strong effort of late. Over the last five games, he has reached double figures in scoring three times. Only Brown, Tatum and rookie Payton Pritchard have logged more total points than him during that stretch.
Eleven games into the season, Ojeleye is averaging 7.2 points per game while shooting an elite 42.4 percent clip from 3-point range. He also has a team-high offensive rating of 119.5 (seventh in the NBA), which means that the Celtics have been at their very best whenever he’s been on the court.
Despite such strong numbers, his play continues to fly under the radar of the public eye, just as it always has. However, his diligence does not fly under the radar of his teammates who are with him behind closed doors on a daily basis.
“He doesn't get as much playing time. He doesn't get much talked about. He doesn't get much exposure,” said Marcus Smart. “But that guy works his tail off every day, day-in and day-out. He never complains, he comes in and he's professional, and he waits his time. When it's his turn and his number is called, he comes out and he applies what he's been working on and he comes to rise to the occasion.”
Humble as always, Ojeleye didn’t take any personal credit for rising to the occasion Friday night. Instead, he commended the team’s overall next-man-up mentality, which he most certainly embraced as much as anyone.
“On this team, we have such a special group,” said the 26-year-old win. “Everybody just tries to put in the work every day like they’re going play all 48, and that helps us all play our best when we’re out there.”
But there is no one on this Celtics team who puts in more work than Ojeleye, himself. And that’s why Brown believes these last five games haven’t been a fluke.
“As long as he keeps working, and if he continues to get opportunities, I think he’ll continue to perform.”