Nesmith’s Hustle Dazzles Teammates in Win Over Hornets

After the Celtics dropped their third straight game to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night, Jaylen Brown urged his teammates to pick up their intensity moving forward by igniting their “inner flame.”

Aaron Nesmith must’ve heard that message loud and clear, because the rookie wing responded 24 hours later with one of the fieriest individual performances of Boston’s campaign.

With Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker both sidelined for Wednesday night’s matchup against the Charlotte Hornets, Nesmith stepped in and produced career-highs of 15 points, nine rebounds, three steals, and three blocks, becoming the first rookie in Celtics history to reach such benchmarks all in one game. However, his most impressive contribution didn’t show up on the stat sheet; it showed up on the court in the form of non-stop hustle plays that helped to spark the Celtics to a 120-111 win.

“We needed people to step up,” Nesmith said, acknowledging Smart and Walker’s absences. “And I just came in and tried to do the best that I could do.”

What he did was nothing short of astonishing. Nesmith gave everything he had during his 31-plus minutes of action, providing endless energy and absurd feats of athleticism. He also delivered in crunch time, most notably midway through the fourth quarter when he blocked two consecutive Hornets shot attempts before sinking a momentum-swinging 3-pointer from the corner to give the Celtics a six-point lead.

For a guy who has played sparingly this season, it was one heck of a way to prove his value.

“Despite his situation, he came out and played extremely hard,” said Jaylen Brown, who logged 38 points in the win. “Whether it's two minutes or 15, Aaron has played with the same level of passion all year. So it's kudos to him because that's hard to do. Especially coming out of college, playing a lot. Now you're coming here, you're not playing as much, there's guys in front of you. It's not as easy as it seems. But I think he's handled it as good as anybody that I've seen.”

Nesmith’s introduction to the NBA was particularly difficult because he hadn’t played competitive basketball in nearly a year before suiting up for his first professional game. Pair that with the fact that there was no summer league and a shortened training camp, and it made for quite the adverse entrance into the league.

It was evident early on that Nesmith was challenged by the college-to-pro transition, but he has made quite a leap over the past couple of months, which has been evident over the last few games.

“I think the biggest challenge for Aaron was the speed of the game when he first got here,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy who played basically 10 games last year, hadn’t played in a five-on-five game since January of the year before when he first got here. But he’s played hard, and he’s worked really hard at it. As he’s gotten more practice time and game minutes here, the difference between his play now and when we were putting him in in January and February is night and day.”

Nesmith has taken the challenges of his transition in stride, always seeking to improve while never complaining about his inconsistent role.

“I’m just continuing to learn the game, continuing to go out there and make the most of my opportunities, continuing to go out there and making plays,” he said. “And as long as I continue to do that, the game will continue to get easier and easier if I just go out there and do my job.”

One of his favorite jobs is to put his body on the line in pursuit of loose balls, which caught Jayson Tatum’s attention Wednesday night.

“It’s incredible,” Tatum, who scored 35 points, said of wing mate’s fearless style of play. “Aaron’s a guy who’s literally going to give his body up on every possession and run through a wall. He plays as hard as he can for as long as he’s out there, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. You need that from him, and we appreciate it.”

Added an equally-impressed Brown, “He plays extremely hard. His energy is always good, whether he's playing or not. He works his ass off. He's stepping into his opportunity and he's playing well. I love having him on the floor. I know he makes mistakes sometimes, but he makes mistakes going 110 percent, and I'll take that. I like having Aaron out there.”

And out there, Aaron is proving that he belongs.

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