Gibson Earns Love from Celtics Nation in Remarkable Debut Effort

BOSTON – Jonathan Gibson earned more standing ovations during his Boston Celtics debut Friday night than many players have experienced during their entire careers with the organization.

The crowd at TD Garden collectively rose to its feet not once, but twice, during Gibson’s introduction performance, which featured nine points, two assists and a rebound during a single nine-minute, fourth-quarter stint. The explosive individual effort helped Boston create enough separation to pull away for a 111-104 win, all while providing the newcomer with instant cult-hero status.

The funny thing is, most Celtics fans had probably never heard of Jonathan Gibson before Friday, and understandably so.

The 30-year-old point guard had experienced just one quick NBA stint over the course of his professional career, and had spent the past season playing in China, before the C’s signed him to their roster Friday morning for the remainder of the campaign.

The move came as a complete surprise to the free agent guard, who was on the other side of the country in Las Vegas Thursday night when he received word of Boston's offer.

“My agent called me and asked, ‘do you want to go play for the Celtics the rest of the season?’” Gibson recounted Friday night. “I said, ‘Sure!’ and (director of player personnel) Austin (Ainge) called me and confirmed it. I was definitely excited. I called my family and let everybody know. Then I was on my way out here in the next couple of hours.”

Once Gibson arrived in Boston, he had very little time to prepare.

The Celtics, who had just received news that Kyrie Irving would have to undergo season-ending knee surgery, expected immediate minutes out of Gibson, so the coaches gave him a quick introduction to their system before throwing him into the fire. And he wasn’t fazed one bit.

“We had a walkthrough at around 11 a.m., and probably about 30-40 minutes after that we were going over film with the coaches,” said Gibson. “I felt confident. It was pretty basic, as far as what we did.”

Gibson had been on the NBA stage just once before. He appeared in 17 contests for the Dallas Mavericks at the beginning of the 2016-17 season, averaging 6.2 points over 13.6 minutes per game.

Gibson also had extensive playing experience overseas. He most recently played for the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, with whom he averaged 33.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game this past season.

The scoring aspect of Gibson’s game is what caught Boston’s eye, and that’s what coach Brad Stevens was hoping he’d bring to the table right away.

“We’ve been very well aware of him for a long time,” Stevens told members of the media ahead of Friday’s game. “He’s really highly thought of. And we need a guy that can put the ball in the basket.”

Gibson barely batted an eye at those lofty expectations: “I agree with that. I’m an aggressive player. I’ve been like that my whole life. It’s natural for me.”

It sure looked natural once Gibson hit the court for the first time at TD Garden. He made his debut at the start of the fourth quarter, checking in during crunch time with the Celtics holding onto a slim, 79-76 lead.

It took Gibson just one minute and 16 seconds to make his first mark in green, as he knocked down his first 3-point attempt from the left wing. Less than two minutes later, he canned another trey – this one a 28-footer from the right wing that broke an 86-86 tie to put the Celtics ahead for good.

Gibson could hardly contain himself when that second shot fell: He made a 3-point symbol with his right hand and banged his fingers on the side of his head in celebration while galloping back toward the other basket. Chicago immediately called a timeout and Gibson made his way back to Boston’s bench, receiving handshakes and embraces from his teammates all along the way.

Meanwhile, Celtics fans across arena rose their feet and applauded the unlikely spark plug.

“Nothing surprises with this team anymore, honestly,” said Greg Monroe, who assisted on both of those baskets. “No matter who gets in, no matter who’s one the court, good things seem to happen. That’s just how it’s been since I’ve been here, since before I was here… that’s just how it is here.”

Gibson wasn’t done yet. When the Celtics emerged from the timeout, he dished out an assist and then knocked down another 3-pointer. It took him just four and a half minutes to log nine points and two assists to help give Boston a two-possession lead.

“That’s just who he is,” Stevens stated after the game without any hint of surprise.

Gibson’s stint lasted until the 2:39 mark of the fourth quarter, when he was subbed out to his second standing ovation of the night. His teammates joined in on the applause, giving him a loving, warm welcome that he fully deserved.

“It was super dope to see that,” said Jaylen Brown, who helped contribute to Boston’s cause with a career-high 32-point performance. “He was super excited, and he definitely turned some heads, so it was really amazing to see him get hot like that.”

Gibson’s red-hot performance Friday night will likely earn him more opportunities over the next week, as the Celtics will likely be resting key rotation players in preparation for the Playoffs.

For Gibson, his version of the Playoffs are now. He’ll use the last three games of the regular season to showcase why he belongs in the NBA, all while trying to give Celtics fans a reason to remember him.

Not a bad start so far. Now, let's see what else he has in store.

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