Jonas Jerebko is enduring the worst shooting season of his six-year NBA career. He has connected on just 36.7 percent of his attempts this season, or nearly 10 percent below his career average. And, yet, when the ball swung his way during maybe the biggest possession of Saturday's game, Jerebko calmly produced a one-dribble, 18-foot, pull-up jumper in the game's final seconds and sealed a 99-93 triumph over his former team, the Detroit Pistons, at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
For Jerebko, it was his only bucket in 10 minutes, 21 seconds of floor time. He was a team-worst minus-10 in plus/minus for a bench unit that struggled to maintain the leads delivered by Boston's starters. But, running with much of the first unit late in the game because of his defensive versatility, Jerebko came up with the big shot.
Asked to detail the final sequence, Jerebko minimized his part while noting, "I got the ball with a few seconds to go, and I shot it and I made it." He acknowledged the size advantage on Detroit's Steve Blake, but again downplayed his contribution to the sequence. To Jerebko, who has had too many shots bounce the wrong way this season, it still had to be satisfying to see one drop, particularly against the team that traded him away in February.
That he was even on the floor speaks to the value he has added to the Celtics since his arrival in a swap that sent Tayshaun Prince back to Detroit in February.
Coach Brad Stevens often leans on Jerebko in late-game situations because his size and versatility allows Boston to switch pick-and-rolls. Subbing for Jared Sullinger, Jerebko essentially served as the Celtics' center, matching up with Andre Drummond, but was able to help prevent the Pistons from attacking the basket the way they did during a win over Boston in Detroit just 10 days ago.
Jerebko has embraced his defense-first role. Even as he has struggled to find his shot -- inside of the 3-point arc, at least; he's still shooting a robust 40 percent on triples -- Jerebko owns the best defensive rating on the team; Boston allows just 95.3 points per 100 possessions when the Swede is on the court.
The Celtics had been up 10 with 72 seconds to play on Saturday, but Detroit made things uncomfortable and Reggie Jackson's 3-pointer with 31 seconds to play left Boston clinging to a two-point lead. When Stevens elected to play without a timeout, it left Jerebko on the floor for a crucial offensive possession.
The Pistons swarmed Isaiah Thomas high above the arc, and that left Jerebko open on the left wing. Taking a cross-court lob from Evan Turner, Jerebko dribbled hard toward the basket with his left hand while Blake tried to rush over from Thomas. With Jae Crowder sealing off any help coming from the paint, Jerebko stopped and pump-faked before simply using his seven-inch height advantage over Blake to hit the 18-footer while fading away with 10.7 seconds to play.
"The spacing was excellent, Detroit was scrambling, and Jonas was the open guy," Stevens said before shrugging and adding, "You find the open guy, and the open guy has to make a play."
For a Boston team that has sometimes struggled to identify a late-game go-to presence -- at least one other than Thomas and, occasionally, Turner -- it had to be satisfying to simply react to the defense and find the best available shot. Still, Jerebko's game-clinching shot was surprising.
For his career, Jerebko is about a 50-percent shooter on 2-point shots, but he has connected on only 35.3 percent (23-of-65) of those attempts this season. He had a big scoring night in Boston's last visit to Detroit earlier this month but couldn't get the Celtics over the hump.
The Celtics, playing without David Lee (back spasms) on Saturday, have found success with smaller lineups, and guys such as Jerebko and Crowder give the team an awful lot of size and versatility to make things difficult for opponents.
Jerebko's base stat line won't raise any eyebrows -- 3.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists over 12.9 minutes per game. Those are essentially career lows across the board, and he has really struggled when playing at the small forward position this season. Through it all, Stevens has rarely shied from going to Jerebko and has said he will help this team more moving forward.
And Saturday night in Detroit, Jerebko got a chance to remind his old team just how valuable he can be.