Semi's Loud Defensive Statement Helps C's Silence Heat
BOSTON – It’s no secret that Marcus Smart is Boston’s defensive anchor. He lets that be known not only with his tenacious play on that end of the floor, but also with his commanding voice.
The Celtics were without that voice Wednesday night when they took on the red-hot Miami Heat at TD Garden, but in its place arose another – just as loud and just as impactful. It was the voice of Semi Ojeleye that helped to lead Boston to a 112-93 win.
It wasn’t a smooth start for Boston’s defense, as it allowed Miami to take a 28-20 lead after one quarter. However, as soon as Ojeleye checked in at the start of the second frame, the C’s began to look much more organized on that end.
Boston would double up Miami, 32-16 during that quarter, and Ojeleye was out there for every minute of it. It was his communication that helped turn things around, according to Jaylen Brown.
“Semi, you can always hear him talking,” said Brown, who led the C’s on the offensive end with 31 points. “Semi does a great job of being communicative on defense. He’s an anchor down there, so we started the second [quarter] with him and he helped us out a lot.”
The Celtics stuck with Ojeleye for the entire third quarter as well, and they continued to push forward.
“I don’t think it was a coincidence that those 24 minutes were our best 24 minutes defensively tonight,” coach Brad Stevens pointed out.
That’s because Ojeleye’s voice never died out. If anything, it amplified more and more as the game wore on.
“He was really loud, talking behind the defense, making sure everyone was in the right spots,” said Kemba Walker. “That’s who Semi is for us. He's a great player and we need him to be great defensively, make open shots like he's doing, making the hustle plays. He's always the first one to the floor, and that's what we need from him.”
That was especially the case after such a disorganized first-quarter, which Ojeleye sought to remedy as soon as he entered the game.
“If our talk is there, then everybody is tight, everybody knows where they’re going to be, that translates into energy, into stops,” said Ojeleye, whose 24-minute effort included five points, seven rebounds and a steal. “I think if our talk is there, then our defense is good.”
Boston’s defense has been good for several seasons in a row now, and that’s largely been due to Smart’s strong communication skills. Although that commanding presence is difficult for one player to mimic, the team can still find ways to make up for it when the All-Defensive guard is unable to play.
“You can’t replace Smart,” Ojeleye said. “The intensity he brings as a veteran, the energy, and just the plays he makes. He sees what’s coming before anybody else does. But we knew we had to bring extra talk.”
Ojeleye took it upon himself to initiate that communication Wednesday night. As he talked the talk, the Celtics walked the walk – straight to a blowout win.