Celtics rookie Tremont Waters didn’t hear the cheers and applause from the TD Garden crowd upon subbing into the game Monday night.
“I was all over the place,” Waters said. “My nerves were everywhere.”
Eleven seconds after checking in, Waters attempted his first shot: a 24-foot three-pointer. He air-balled it. He also missed his next shot, this time a 29-foot three-pointer that clanked off the back of the rim. But Waters, a two-way player making his NBA debut, soon settled in and finished with an individual plus-minus of plus-20 to help the Celtics edge the Sacramento Kings, 103-102.
“He came out and he played well, to be honest,” said teammate Jaylen Brown. “He made the right plays, the right decisions. He’s hard to guard. He’s tricky with the ball. He was good.”
“He was really a true point guard,” added Marcus Smart. “He was finding everybody. He was getting to his spots. The guy’s not afraid. He showed that.”
In 20 minutes, Waters tallied seven points and dished three assists, including a well-timed, cross-court dish to find a running Semi Ojeleye in the corner for a three. He even whipped out a Rajon Rondo-esque ball fake on one drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. He did turn the ball over twice on bad passes, but the 21-year-old looked comfortable on the floor, demonstrating sound decision-making, defensive intensity, and an ability to facilitate — all of which were on full display during Summer League and preseason.
Following the win, coach Brad Stevens praised Waters for his control of the game, something he mentioned earlier in the week when Waters first returned to practice. After starting point guard Kemba Walker sustained a neck sprain last Friday, the Celtics recalled Waters from their team’s G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, dipping into the 45 days he is allowed to spend with the team as part of his two-way contract.
“I think he’ll play a lot better when it’s not his first time coming out here,” Stevens said. “We think he’s really good. Like I said before, we’re not going to hesitate to play him.”
Stevens also pointed out he thought Waters’s presence greatly benefitted fellow rookie Carsen Edwards, who was able to play more off the ball rather than being tasked with creating plays. Waters said he and Edwards actually acknowledged during halftime how well they complement each other.
“He’s a prolific scorer and I’m a pass-first point guard, so I feel like when we’re playing together we’re feeding off each other,” Waters said.
Once Walker is available to return, Waters will likely return to Maine. If he’s needed in Boston, however, Stevens made it clear he’s more than willing to play him — and Waters made it clear he’s more than ready to step up.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” he said. “Kids dream of this moment, to be in this position, to go from the G-League — obviously, I’m working on my game — to come to the NBA level. And to help the team actually get a win definitely feels good, but I’m not satisfied with it. Just got to keep working and everything else will play itself out.”