Parker Embracing Chance to be 'Instant Offense' Off C's Bench

addByline("Taylor Snow", "Celtics.com", "taylorcsnow");

Jabari Parker earned his first minutes of the season Monday night in Charlotte, and he seized the moment.

With Al Horford sidelined from the matchup due to a strained left adductor, C’s head coach Ime Udoka turned to Parker for an offensive boost. The C’s were in need of such a spark, as they found themselves trailing the Hornets 19-12 seven minutes into the first quarter.

Parker entered at around that time and the entire flow of the game changed.

“Coach told me before the game just to be prepared,” the veteran forward recalled at Wednesday morning’s shootaround in Boston prior to a matchup against the Washinton Wizards. “But like every other game, I'm always keeping the same mentality, just staying ready.”

Parker proved his readiness by kick-starting Boston’s offense, connecting on back-to-back 3-pointers right off the bat. He later threw down a fast-break dunk, and then capped off the frame with another triple to tie the game at 33-33.

In a matter of four minutes, Parker scored 11 points without missing a shot, helping the Celtics turn a 25-14 deficit into a deadlock. He did exactly what Udoka expected of him, lighting a fire under the Celtics’ offense, which helped to set the tone for a 140-129 overtime win against a previously-unbeaten Hornets team.

“We know Jabari is instant offense,” Udoka said following Parker’s 13-point, five rebound performance. “We know he can spark us and I told him before the game, when we found out about Al, to be ready. And he was prepared and ready and was in attack mode as always.”

Nothing about Parker’s quiet, humble personality screams “attack mode.” But his game screams differently. Even though his role has been limited with the Celtics ever since joining the team toward the end of last season, he has exuded confidence whenever stepping foot on the court.

“I'm always staying ready, I'm always accepting the challenge, and I always win the challenge,” he said. “So no matter what obstacle is in front of me, I'm always standing high. I gotta keep that about me and I gotta remember that.”

The reason Parker maintains such an approach is because the game has almost been taken away from him several times over the course of his eight-year career. He entered the NBA as one of the most coveted prospects in 2014 after being drafted No. 2 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. However, just a month and a half into his career, he suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee.

Parker battled back from his injury and played his full sophomore season before breaking out at the start of his third campaign, averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game through the first 51 games of the 2016-17 season. But just before the All-Star break the unthinkable happened: he tore the same ACL. He was still only 21 at the time.

The 26-year-old has been on an uphill journey ever since. From 2018 to 2021 he bounced around from Milwaukee, to Chicago, to Washington, to Atlanta, and to Sacramento before finally landing with the Celtics on April 16. He was an immediate fit with Boston, providing that instant offense for them down the final stretch of the regular season and into the postseason.

Parker felt comfortable with the C’s and didn’t want to bounce around anymore. So he returned this season, even though he knew his role would likely be limited due to their roster depth.

“I just knew it was the right place to be. I knew that,” he said. “This is a winning team and iron sharpens iron, so if anything, I'm going to get better here playing against the guys every day, being around true competitors, and obviously get a chance for me to learn.”

Parker understands that his journey will be unpredictable moving forward. But his whole career has been unpredictable up to this point, and he has had no problem keeping his head held high while continuing to roll with the punches.

“It’s the journey that I chose, so definitely appreciative of the Celtics organization and my teammates always being supportive,” Parker said. “Regardless of anything, I'm around good people, I’m around a great team, and I'm just grateful for the moment. I'm just thankful that I get a chance to play the game I love and that I'm healthy. So that's just why I count my blessings and from that point on, everything else is just a little extra.”

Just like the offensive boost that will surely be needed and he'll surely provide at times throughout the Celtics’ season. His time will come, whether there are core players out of the lineup or the team is simply having an off night trying to get buckets to fall. When that happens, like it did Monday night, they’ll know exactly where to turn.