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Stiemsma gave it his best shots

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 3, 2012
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The Washington Wizards had the Celtics where they wanted them in the third quarter of last night’s game. Ray Allen could not get open. Kevin Garnett was not touching the ball. Paul Pierce was pressured when he shot.

That left Greg Stiemsma unguarded outside the lane. Most Celtics opponents would take their chances with that option. But Stiemsma took the Wizards by surprise - he went 3 for 4 in the quarter, hitting jumpers from the baseline and the right elbow, keeping the Celtics in contention until they could mount a strong final quarter during a 100-92 victory.

The Wizards were not the only ones taken by surprise by Stiemsma, who finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 21 minutes.

Jermaine O’Neal was expected to be the Celtics’ starting center, coming off a breakout 19-point performance in a win in Washington Sunday. But during last night’s pregame walkthrough, there was Stiemsma preparing to make his first NBA start.

“I look back to where I was a year [ago],’’ said Stiemsma, who has played overseas and in the NBA Development League since going undrafted out of Wisconsin in 2008. “And I look to my left and see Ray and [Rajon] Rondo and to my right Paul and KG, it’s a pretty good feeling to have those guys around and be a part of it.

“It’s been a wild ride, it’s been a journey. There have been some moments where I didn’t know this moment was going to happen, so I’m going to just enjoy it, just put in the work and make it last as long as I can.’’

But taking shots with plenty of time on the shot clock and future Hall of Famers working to get open is easier said than done. Many young Celtics find themselves unable to focus, knowing they are the last - and likely least dependable - offensive option.

Coach Doc Rivers, though, has been insisting on Stiemsma shooting, going so far as to make him stand up in front of the team in practice and say, “My name is Greg Stiemsma - I’m a shooter.’’

“We kept making him repeat it,’’ Rivers said. “Everybody was laughing.’’

Said Stiemsma: “I passed up a couple looks in practice and he asked me, ‘What are you?’ A shooter. He made me say it a few more times. So, it’s starting to sink in more.’’

Even veteran newcomers, such as Brandon Bass and Sasha Pavlovic, have to be convinced they have the green light, according to Allen.

“He was hesitating,’’ Allen said of Stiemsma. “And we had this conversation, from Sasha to Brandon to Greg. One morning, I told them, ‘I guarantee you at some point throughout this training camp Doc has told each one of you to shoot the ball more.’ Those guys, the teams they played on before, they never heard that before. It was just swing it, don’t touch the ball, just swing it. And, especially when we know they can shoot, so when you have the opportunity to shoot it, just shoot it. That’s what the defense is giving you.’’

Stiemsma, though, has been making his biggest impact on defense, and that is what set the tone in this game. His block of a Rashard Lewis baseline jumper produced a strong protest from Wizards coach Flip Saunders, who was ejected 106 seconds into the game.

“I thought it was pretty clean,’’ Stiemsma said. “The block up top was pretty clean. I don’t know if he grabbed me or I came down on top of him, but we got a bucket in transition and they didn’t call it, so it must have been clean.

“No whistle, no foul, I’ll take every one I can get.’’

But the Wizards continued with Saunders’s game plan, going directly at Stiemsma in an attempt to get him in foul trouble.

“Obviously, it’s happened quite a bit in my career,’’ Stiemsma said. “You block shots, you want to get those guys to leave their feet and commit some fouls. I’ve got to keep learning but at the same time I can’t pull back on aggressiveness, either.

“Once a couple plays go your way, you settle down. I’ve been playing quite a while, obviously this is the highest level I’ve played at, but at the same time it’s a simple game.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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