Jerebko Proves Value for Short-Handed Celtics

INDIANAPOLIS – Celtics coach Brad Stevens loves to space the floor with Boston’s versatile 4s, but his team was significantly limited in that capacity Tuesday night in Indianapolis.

The C’s were without Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder, causing stretch-4 duties to fall heavily upon Jonas Jerebko. Boston’s eldest member embraced the added pressure and stepped up and delivered with ease.

Jerebko saw season highs in points (17) and minutes (25), and his 7-of-12 shooting performance kept the C’s hanging with the Indiana Pacers all night long. Unfortunately, his offensive prowess was not enough, as the C’s shot just 38.3 percent from the field and dropped a close 103-98 contest.

Boston’s 6-foot-10, 29-year-old sharpshooter, however, proved his value as someone the C’s can count on when their frontcourt is short-handed.

“We have to stretch the floor with someone,” Stevens said after the game. “And I thought that Jonas was really good the whole game. We need him to be good, especially in this stretch.”

It will certainly be a trying period for Boston, as Crowder (ankle) will likely be out for a couple of weeks. Olynyk (shoulder), meanwhile, is day-to-day, though his status has not changed in more than a week.

As long as the pair is absent, Jerebko knows his value is extremely high given that he is one of the lone remaining players who enable the C’s to play small and spread the floor.

“That’s what I’m in there to do,” said Jerebko. “To get the others some space and be able to just be an outlet. If they need an outlet, I’ll shoot the ball or I’ll drive it.”

Jerebko did all of the above Tuesday night. He entered the game midway through the first quarter and it didn’t take long for him to take on a heavy scoring load for Boston.

Beginning at the 4:28 mark of the first frame, Jerebko went on a personal seven-point run during a minute and 18-second span. He pulled out a variety of tricks during that stretch, starting with a 3-pointer from the right wing, followed by a fadeaway bank shot, and then finally a cutting layup.

Jerebko’s short burst enabled Boston to stretch a two-point lead into a seven-point lead. However, the C’s 20-13 advantage at the 3:10 mark was the largest lead they’d see all night.

Indiana battled back and went into halftime up 43-39. Then Paul George took over, scoring 17 of his game-high 25 points during the second half, leading the Pacers on a late-game run en route to the victory.

Boston undoubtedly missed Crowder and Olynyk’s help on both ends of the court during the final stretch. Crowder, of course, is an elite defensive stopper, while Olynyk possesses the best defensive rating on the team. On the offensive end, neither shy away from high-pressure situations, as both are capable of knocking down clutch shots.

Rookie Terry Rozier said factoring their absence into the loss was no excuse, but admitted, “Their presence would have helped. They knock down shots [and] Jae could have helped Marcus (Smart) guard Paul George tonight and give him a break.”

Rozier was another player who stepped in for the C’s Tuesday night. He played significant minutes (11:40) for the second straight game, notching deuces in the points and rebounds column, to go along with an assist and a block.

Even Coty Clarke, Boston’s 10-day signee, saw some playing time in Boston’s frontcourt. The rookie rattled home the first 3-point attempt of his career less than two minutes into his NBA debut.

Ultimately, however, no one could truly fill Crowder’s void.

“He’s one of the pillars on our team,” said Jerebko. “A starter who plays a lot of minutes, plays hard for us and does a little bit of everything. So of course we missed him, but we gotta have other people stepping up.”

Given that it is unclear when Boston will have a healthy frontcourt again, Jerebko plans to be one of those guys who steps up and shoulders a heavy load in the meantime.

“With those two out, they spread the floor for us and they shoot it well, so of course it’s going to put some more work on me to try to spread the floor for us,” said Jerebko, who made just two fewer field goals than George (nine). “I tried to do that today and we got really good looks, they just weren’t falling. We just gotta bounce back tomorrow [against Oklahoma City].”

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