Mark L. Baer/US Presswire
Greg Stiemsma goes up for a block against the Wizards.BOSTON -- By the time Kevin Garnett emerged from the trainer's room to speak with reporters following Sunday's 88-76 victory over the Washington Wizards, the Celtics' locker room had grown quiet and largely devoid of players. Garnett, typically the last to leave the arena following a home game, finished his interview and was meandering out, when the training room door opened again to reveal Greg Stiemsma, dressed in his civilian clothes, but with his pants rolled up just below his knees, clearly indicating he had just sat through his latest round of treatment for the collection of maladies his body is currently enduring.
That Stiemsma was able to outlast even Garnett in the postgame locker room speaks to the endurance of his injuries, which include a bone bruise on his right foot, a case of plantar fasciitis within his left foot, a jammed right thumb, and a right pinkie finger that had a small chunk severed off when Stiemsma blocked a shot down in Atlanta last week.
But not even the fact that he's been sporting a walking boot during his spare time has kept Stiemsma from the floor come tip off, a testament to both his toughness, as well as the Celtics' somewhat dire situation along the front line, with able-bodied big men few and far between. And beyond his will to simply suit up, Stiemsma has put together a productive string of games that has helped to mask the recent loss of Jermaine O'Neal to a serious wrist injury and to Chris Wilcox to a heart ailment, with Sunday's 10-point, 7-rebound performance being the latest case.
"There's always little bumps and bruises that you get throughout the season," said Stiemsma after Sunday's performance. "This year, with the situation we're in, now that [Ryan Hollins is] here, there's a little bit of help, but otherwise, it was we really don't have a choice, and I've worked too hard to get to this point to let a couple little injuries keep me off the floor. It's been a journey to get here, so I'm not going to let something little keep me off the floor."
Stiemsma reached double-figures in points for just the second time all season, knocking down four of the five shots he attempted, helping the Celtics reach their typical jump shot quota, even with Ray Allen out of the lineup for the second straight game with an ankle injury. With the Washington defense routinely sagging when different Celtics drove to the rim, Stiemsma was the benefactor on the kick-outs, and responded by knocking down several mid-range jumpers outside of the paint. All 10 of Stiemsma's points came in the first half, as he helped the Celtics build a 19-point advantage at the break.
"Everybody was kind of sagging in, I found some open looks early in the first half," said Stiemsma. "I mean, sitting there, wide open, 15 feet, I've got to knock those down. The guys kept finding me for a few, and they kept going down."
It would appear the days of Stiemsma having to stand up in front of his team in practice and declare himself a shooter -- per head coach Doc Rivers' orders -- are far behind him, as the hesitation that once came with gracing the floor with guys like Garnett, Allen, and Paul Pierce, has all but dissipated.
"I think the whole confidence has been coming," said Stiemsma. "It's been building all year. Right now, I feel good about my game. These consistent minutes have really helped, too, just knowing that I have to take those shots for the good of the team, and if I'm standing there open, that's a good look for us."
Said Garnett: "Greg's been huge, since the departure of J.O., and that's our lack of big men. I think he's stepped in and been solid for the role that we need him. He understands what we're doing here, he understands his role, and I think he plays his role very well."
Unfortunately for Stiemsma, the pain within his body isn't dissipating quite as quickly as his hesitations on offense. Rivers acknowledged that prior to last Friday's loss in Philadelphia, Stiemsma couldn't even make it through the team's shootaround without resorting to his walking boot. And a dedicated, but rough dive to the floor for a loose ball early in the fourth quarter on Sunday didn't do much to alleviate Stiemsma's pain.
"He’s been great, he was terrific [Sunday]," said Rivers. "He’s just taken a beating. He’s clearly the guy that gets all the fouls, just looks like he gets picked on physically, his body is taking a beating and he just keeps playing. I’m very happy for him. He’s a great kid."
Stiemsma alluded to a steady increase in confidence as the season has progressed, but he's received several extra doses of it lately, with a recent homecoming in Milwaukee when the Celtics took on the Bucks last Thursday resulting in a stuffed stat line and a pro-Stiemsma crowd at the Bradley Center, all on top of March 22 being named "Greg Stiemsma Day" in his hometown of Randolph, Wisc. And if that weren't enough, in an unusual location-based coincidence, when Stiemsma and the C's were out in Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin -- Stiemsma's alma mater -- was in Boston, playing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament at the TD Garden against Syracuse.
Stiemsma returned to his locker following the Celtics' recent 8-game road trip to find a note from his old head coach, Bo Ryan.
"There was a little note in my locker, it just says, 'Coach Ryan was here. Best of luck,'" Stiemsma explained. "I think the guys came through, I don't know if they had a little tour or something. A few guys posted on Twitter and stuff, a picture of my locker and a few of the other ones, so we kind of texted back and forth and tweeted back and forth just a few jokes and stuff. It's kind of a weird situation where they were here and I was back in Wisconsin. Not quite in Madison, but the tides were turned a little bit."
With a locker room chock full of future Hall-of-Famers, Stiemsma admitted being singled out was a cool experience.
"Oh yeah, absolutely," said Stiemsma. "I was a little disappointed that since they were where I lived that I couldn't get a chance to talk to them or see them or anything, but it's part of the business. I was really hoping they'd win on Thursday so that I could have been at the game on Saturday. I was kind of hoping for that, but they had a heck of a year. It was fun to watch them play in the tournament."
Clearly the feeling is mutual for the Badgers, as they get to watch one of their own -- injuries and all -- begin to thrive with his NBA club.