Ojeleye’s Offensive Outpour Helps C’s Outlast Cavs
CLEVELAND – The Boston Celtics most often utilize Semi Ojeleye as a defensive stopper. However, with three of their top four scorers sidelined Wednesday night in Cleveland, the C’s needed their third-year wing to step up on the offensive end, as well.
Ojeleye answered the call in tremendous fashion, pouring in a career-high 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field during 30 minutes of action off the bench. More importantly, he came through with the biggest shot of the night – a game-sealing 3-pointer during crunch time, which helped Boston outlast the Cavaliers, 112-106, despite being without injured starters Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker.
Ojeleye did more than half of his offensive damage during the second quarter when he notched 12 points on a perfect 4-for-4 effort from the field, which included three makes from downtown. By halftime, he had 15 points, which placed him just two shy of his previous career-high of 17.
While his scoring outpour may have shocked some viewers, Ojeleye’s teammates weren’t the least bit surprised.
“We knew Semi could do that on a daily basis for us,” declared Marcus Smart, who logged 18 points during the win. “Every day he’s getting his shots up. He’s knocking down those shots in practice, warmups and everything. It was just all about his opportunity tonight. He got his opportunity and he took advantage of it.”
Ojeleye’s opportunities haven’t always come always consistently. For example, during Tuesday night’s loss against Brooklyn, he didn’t see a single minute of action until overtime, by which time the C’s were without Brown, Hayward and Walker. Though, having an unpredictable role doesn’t cause Ojeleye’s approach to waver.
“You try to take advantage of when you get an opportunity like this, and when there’s not, you just keep working,” he explained.
The long hours that Ojeleye puts in at the gym don’t go unnoticed, as his coaches and teammates often rave about his work ethic. That’s part of what made his performance Wednesday night effort extraordinary.
"He's the best,” said coach Brad Stevens. “He's a great worker, he's a great teammate. When everything is not going your way, he's a guy that you know is in everybody's corner, and I think that that's huge when you start talking about team. And you also know he can not play one night and be effective in his role the next.”
Ojeleye also displayed great perseverance during Wednesday night’s win, as he played through an injury of his own. Late in the second quarter, he collapsed to the court in excruciating pain after taking a knee to the groin while defending a drive by Larry Nance Jr. The team listed him as being “questionable to return” at halftime, but he re-entered the action midway through the third quarter and wound up playing the final 17-plus minutes of the game.
“It was just an uncomfortable situation,” Ojeleye said of the injury. “But I just wanted to get back out there because we needed the win.”
And the Celtics may not have gotten the win without him. Ojeleye scored seven more points after halftime, including a critical corner triple at the 2:15 mark of the fourth quarter which put his squad ahead 103-97.
“Semi played great,” said Jayson Tatum, who stuffed the stat sheet with 32 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals. “He hit big shots. He hit the shot that really kind of like sealed the game. He works his butt off. He doesn't always play, but when his name is called, he steps up, and he was a big reason why we won tonight."
Stepping up in the manner which he did was a huge confidence booster for Ojeleye. It’s not easy being in a position of not always having a consistent role. But being able to show off a side of his game that he works at so diligently made it all worth it. In fact, it made him want work even harder.
“It just felt like a relief,” Ojeleye said. “Kind of like a weight off your shoulders knowing that you put in the work and you finally get to let it show for a little bit.
“And now, it’s time to put in more work.”