BOSTON – Romeo Langford walked into his first NBA post-game media scrum Sunday night wearing a black hoodie with yellow text scribbled over his heart.
“Fear is an illusion,” it read.
It’s a fitting phrase for a 20-year-old rookie who has stepped in this week for his first significant stretch of professional playing time and has seized the opportunity without showing any sign of angst.
While facing the Charlotte Hornets Sunday night in just his fourth appearance of the 2019-20 campaign, Langford came off the bench to tally season highs of eight points, four rebounds (three offensive) and one block over 23 minutes of action to help the Celtics capture a 119-93 win.
“He was great,” Kemba Walker said of his backcourt mate. “He was in the right spots. When he got the opportunity to take shots, he made them. He made plays defensively. He was just very active tonight.”
It was the second game in a row in which Langford had been active, having logged six points and a pair of steals during 18 minutes of Friday night’s 114-93 win over Detroit. Prior to that, his only other stints of the season had been a five-minute scoreless stretch against Dallas Wednesday night, and a quick, 14-second hello-and-goodbye against Milwaukee on Oct. 30.
One of the main reasons why Langford hadn’t seen much playing time heading into this week was that he had been dealing with a handful of minor injuries over the course of the summer, the preseason, and the first part of the regular season. When he wasn’t injured, he was getting reps with the Maine Red Claws of the G League.
Now dealing with the injuries of Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart, the Celtics are counting on Langford to help fill in. He’s looked right at home so far.
“I’m a lot more comfortable now that I’ve been getting more than one game under my belt,” Langford said after Sunday's game. “The coaches and players always tell me just to be ready, you never know when your name’s going to be called.”
Whenever he called upon Langford this weekend, C’s coach Brad Stevens was pleased with the outcome. He’s been particularly impressed with the 6-foot-6 wing’s contributions on the defensive end during the last two games.
“You can go back and you can watch the Dallas game and it’s night and day what three games of experience will do for you,” said Stevens. “He might not get to play as much when we have our full roster, but I think what this does is it gives you great comfort if you have to throw him in there for an extended period of time, he’s going to do exactly what we need to do. He’s a very versatile wing defender, he got his hands on some balls. He chased people off screens, and he played really hard. Obviously knocking down those shots was nice, but I was encouraged by Romeo’s play all weekend.”
Knocking down shots consistently is something that Langford has been working on quite a bit since being drafted by the C’s with the 14th overall pick this past June. Boston’s coaching staff has been working with him to alter his shot mechanics in order to improve his efficiency.
“It feels natural now,” Langford said of his shooting motion. “I shoot all the time now, and I feel like it’s paying off and it’s working.”
It certainly showed Sunday night, as he knocked down 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.
Langford’s teammates, who get to see all of the hard work he puts in behind the scenes, have been ecstatic to see his diligence come to fruition this weekend.
“He's super talented,” claimed Jayson Tatum, who poured in a career-high 39 points Sunday night. “We've all seen him a lot in practice. With guys being out, his ability to step in. Last week, not knowing he was going to play at all and then now to playing big minutes in crucial times and hitting big shots. Just knowing where to be, especially on defense. That's where you gotta start here first, on defense. For him to know that is really promising for him.”
Having such support from his peers is what has helped Langford to stay mentally prepared to step into a significant role, as he has done over the last couple of games.
“It hasn’t been really that hard because I feel like I’ve got a good group of teammates that keep me focused and keep me on the right track,” he said. “And also a coaching staff and inner circle that helps me make sure I’m focused and always being ready.”
With that type of mentality, Langford should have no problem stepping in whenever he’s called upon. For the young rookie, in those types of situations, fear is just an illusion.
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