Stiemsma Got Experience, Confidence From Stint With Celtics

by Mark Remme
Web Editor
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Greg Stiemsma still remembers the look on Celtics coach Doc Rivers’ face when he called him into his office last winter. A journeyman still looking for his first solidified spot on an NBA roster, Stiemsma knew the situation all too well. With the guaranteed contract deadline approaching, Stiemsma knew why he was summoned—he just didn’t know what the outcome would be.

Expression-less, Rivers had him shut the door to his office.

“I’d been through that situation before a few times where it’s gone the other way, and I’m kind of thinking, ‘Man, I thought I did enough to stay,’” Stiemsma said. “Then [Rivers] cracked a smile and said, ‘Welcome to the family. Welcome to the team.’ So I kind of laughed at that one, but obviously the outcome was worth a little bit of the buzz.”

As brief as it was—one lockout-shortened season—tonight will feel like somewhat of a homecoming for Stiemsma. When the Wolves face the Celtics—tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at TD Garden—he’ll return to face a team that helped him solidify his place in this league and, through that opportunity, earned him a contract with the Wolves as a restricted free agent this summer.

A year ago at this time, Stiemsma was still very much trying to find NBA job security. He’d spent time in the NBA Development League, bounced round Asia and Europe playing ball and had one short stint with the Timberwolves back in 2010.

There were times he wasn’t sure he was going to get his shot. The Celtics gave him that opportunity.

“Without those guys behind me, there was definitely some doubts before that,” Stiemsma said. “I owe them a lot. I appreciate everything they did, and I’m excited to go back and play against them. But I also hope we can go in there and steal a win from them.”

Stiemsma made good on his opportunity, becoming a defensive presence for a Boston team that made a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 4.0 blocks per 36 minutes of play, was the team’s fifth-leading rebounder and played in 19 playoff games.

This summer, the Wolves were looking for a center off the bench who could protect the rim. Stiemsma fit that role.

He’s talked at length about the lessons he learned from former Wolves forward Kevin Garnett—taking him under his wing and challenging him to expand his game both mentally and physically. Stiemsma said he left Boston with a better grasp on attention to detail in his game, how to handle himself as a professional and how to manage the ups and downs that come with a professional basketball career.

“I just went in there and played my style, played hard,” Stiemsma said. “I didn’t come in overconfident or felt like I was owed anything. I think he respected that I came in and played hard and win games and to do what it takes to do that. To do the little things.”

A lot of that process also had to do with Rivers, who, like Wolves coach Rick Adelman, is a player’s coach who really helped nurture Stiemsma’s game.

“He focuses on your positives, lets guys make plays and lets guys make mistakes,” Stiemsma said. “As long as you learn from them, he’s not going to sit there and harp on the same thing. But he’s definitely a player-style coach.”

Then, of course, there will be the fans. Stiemsma said he felt welcomed by not only the organization but also the fans last season, and he knows how difficult it is for opposing teams to win in the TD Garden.

The road trip leaves little time for sentiment—with Minnesota getting in late thanks to a game in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Wolves will essentially get in and out of Boston with just enough time to rest and play the game. That’s fine for Stiemsma, who is more than happy to swoop in and out of his old stomping grounds if it includes a Timberwolves win.

Still, he’s excited to be back.

“The fans will be rocking, and it’s a good basketball team—an experienced, veteran team,” Stiemsma said. “I’m excited to be back in that atmosphere, and we’ll be ready to go.”

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