WALTHAM, Mass. -- When Boston Celtics rookie Jordan Mickey subbed in for the final 1 minute, 51 seconds of Wednesday's lopsided win over the Memphis Grizzlies, teammate Jae Crowder issued a half-joking challenge: Get a block.
So when Mickey shuffled over with help defense and blocked a JaMychal Green layup attempt with 47 seconds to play, Crowder stood up in front of the Boston bench and raised his hand in the air. When Mickey blocked Green's putback attempt, Crowder emphatically pumped his fist and teammates Jared Sullinger and Isaiah Thomas stood up as well, almost like they knew what was coming next.
And when Mickey made it three blocks in four seconds when he somehow managed to hang in the air long enough to reject Jarell Martin's baseline drive, the entire Boston bench stumbled onto the court in celebration with Crowder throwing a series of emphatic fist pumps.
"I loved it. Loved it. I almost went crazy on the sidelines," said Crowder.
The bench celebration crescendoed moments later when fellow rookie R.J. Hunter drilled a 3-pointer in transition, the exclamation point on Boston's emphatic second-half effort.
Added Crowder: "I was joking with [Mickey] and saying, 'I need a block.' He gave me three in one possession. That's pretty amazing. I told him that was good stuff."
Crowder wasn't the only one. When the clip of Mickey's block party started circulating the Internet after the game, Mickey's phone lit up. For the season, the 21-year-old big man is averaging a ridiculous 15.8 blocks per 48 minutes. The 6-foot-8 forward -- with a 7-foot-3 wingspan -- has now blocked nine shots in 27 total minutes of floor time in 10 appearances.
Reflecting on Wednesday's trio of blocks, Mickey said, "I just remember I saw that my teammate R.J. had a big guy on him. It was a little mismatch, so I went down to help and I just contested the [initial] shot. Then I just stayed in the play. It’s all about staying in the play, making multiple efforts after that."
The first two blocks showcased Mickey's timing, but Martin tried to hang in the air when Mickey contested his drive and Mickey still managed to somehow reach across his own body with his right hand and swat the shot on his descent.
"[The blocks] were great," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "That’s what he does well. He gets off the floor really quick; he times it well. He’s got a lot of potential to be an impactful defensive player."
According to the league's player tracking data, opponents are shooting just 33 percent against Mickey, or 12.6 percent below their overall season average. Both Stevens and Mickey appreciated that Boston's rotation players responded like they did to the rookie's sequence.
"It’s very encouraging. Those guys, they see the bigger picture," said Mickey. "They’re not all about themselves, they’re all about the team. And they want to see us succeed. So it’s great to see those guys doing that."
Added Stevens: "Hey, those young bigs from Memphis had their way with us a little bit [Wednesday]. It was really fun to see the support for Jordan. But I think that you generally feel that way about the guys that don’t get as much opportunity, just because everybody feels for them in that regard. This is the greatest gig in the world no matter what position on the team you are. At the same time, when you’re not playing, you do start to doubt yourself and sometimes it’s hard to go through that. It’s good to see guys have success that aren’t playing as much. And everybody appreciates that."
With Kelly Olynyk rehabbing from a shoulder injury and David Lee bought out last month, Mickey, the No. 33 pick in the 2015 draft, has gotten an increased opportunity in recent weeks to showcase his abilities. Mickey has played 14 total minutes over Boston's last five games, including a season-high seven-minute stint in a win over Utah last week. Stevens has implored his younger players to stay ready.
"I think [young players staying ready is] really something that we’ve gotta continue to count on," said Stevens. "Every season that I’ve been a part of where we’ve made deep runs, during my college years, where you continue to advance through the postseason, somebody that hasn’t played a big role as of yet is counted on to do it. And there’s some reason why, whether it’s a perfect matchup, whether it’s injury, whatever the case may be.
"So for those guys to prepare for their time, it’s critical, because you never know, it could be a week left in the season [and] they haven’t done a lot, then all of a sudden they’re asked to play in that role and it’s a great opportunity for them, they gotta be on their toes and ready."
After going through the Celtics' light afternoon practice on Thursday, Mickey was assigned to the Maine Red Claws with Coty Clarke and James Young in order to get more game reps. Mickey, who is averaging 17.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and a D-League best 4.6 blocks per game in 21 appearances for Maine, said he's learned to embrace these assignments and the chance to both showcase and sharpen his game.
"In the beginning, I was a little disappointed, but I quickly realized [the D-League] wasn’t a bad thing," Mickey said Thursday before making his trek to Maine. "It’s all about development. And that’s what I look at it as. I actually get excited to go to Maine to be able to play. It’s just always exciting to play. I’m a competitor, I want to compete, and I take it as an opportunity to get better. Just being back and forth, it’s not a big deal to me. When I’m down here, I try to make the most of my time here and just give everything I can to my team."
There's an impossible-to-miss buzz among Celtics fans about Mickey's potential, with many clamoring for him to get more floor time, especially considering Boston's lack of pure size and rim protection. Mickey acknowledged he's heard that support -- how could he not hear all those rumbling hype trains? -- and it's motivated him to stay ready for his opportunity.
"People are always stopping me when I go out to the mall and things, or to the movies," said Mickey. "They’re excited for me and it’s a warm feeling, just to know that I haven’t played that much, but those guys are still behind me and they believe in me."