BOSTON -- The day before he formally elevated to postseason starter for the Boston Celtics, Jonas Jerebko spent the morning at the pediatrician’s office, a two-week checkup for his daughter, Izabel. Like any new father, Jerebko has endured the sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn, though he has hardly shown the effects.
Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Jerebko has carved out a six-year NBA career as an energy guy, the sort of player who thrives simply because of how hard he plays and the way that rubs off on his teammates.
Thrust into a starting role with the Celtics staring at a two-game deficit in a first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Jerebko has given Boston a much-needed -- and possibly season-saving -- jolt. In Games 3 and 4 of the series, Jerebko produced double-doubles, averaging 13.5 points and 11 rebounds over 34.1 minutes per game. That has helped Boston pull even in the series, with Game 5 on Tuesday night at Philips Arena.
“I’m just out there trying to play my butt off,” Jerebko said.
Then consider it a miracle that there’s any derriere remaining on Jerebko. From a fuse-lighting tip-dunk at the start of Game 3 to the his tongue-wagging offensive barrage as Boston rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half of Game 4, Jerebko has played a key role in Boston’s resurgence. And much of it stems from his seemingly boundless energy.
As Celtics coach Brad Stevens abridged: "He plays really, really hard.”
The Celtics crawled out of the gates of both Games 1 and 2 in Atlanta. Starting shooting guard Avery Bradley was injured in Game 1 -- and backup big man Kelly Olynyk aggravated a shoulder injury as well -- leaving the team scrambling to patch not only its starting lineup but the entire rotation.
Struggling to generate consistent offense, especially with the paint often clogged in Bradley’s absence, Stevens elected to move both Jerebko and Evan Turner up to the starting group. Jerebko added spacing and scoring, while Turner provided an additional ball-handler capable of creating off the dribble and easing the Hawks' attention on Isaiah Thomas.
Jerebko is shooting 52.4 percent over the past two games, including 40 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Quiet in the first half of Game 4, he came out screaming in the second half. The Celtics were down 11 with 97 seconds to play in the third quarter, but Jerebko scored 10 of Boston's next 12 points in a span of 2 minutes, 2 seconds. It culminated with a transition finger roll that put Boston ahead 74-73, and had a fired-up Jerebko wagging his tongue at the Boston bench on his way back up the court.
“He’s meant a lot,” Thomas said. “First and foremost, he spreads the floor for everybody. He allows us to drive and creates driving gaps. Then, the way he can shoot the ball, he can pump fake it or he can catch and shoot, and he’s doing a great job of taking advantage of his opportunities.
"Coach called his name and made an adjustment and we’ve been 2-0 since. He’s a big part of what we have here and he’s been playing well. And we need him to play like that."
Don’t undervalue the benefit of those driving lanes being created as defenders stick close to Jerebko on the perimeter. The Celtics drove to the basket a whopping 51 times in Game 4 and generated 64 points off those drives, the most by any team this postseason through Sunday's games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Jerebko has been the beneficiary of many of those recent drive-and-kicks and has made the Hawks pay for packing the paint (or charging too hard to contest).
Jerebko landed at the interview podium after last Friday’s Game 3 win. He patiently waited for a couple of questions that bounced his way, though much of the postgame attention belonged, understandably, to Thomas after a 42-point night.
Jerebko doesn't mind being an afterthought. On the court, it leaves him with plenty of quality looks.
“We’ve got I.T., E.T., [Marcus] Smart -- they just open up the floor so much for me,” Jerebko said. “I’m just trying to spread and shoot the ball. My first half wasn’t that good [in Game 4] -- I missed three [open looks], I think -- but my teammates kept feeding me, I kept shooting and knocked a few down.”
The Celtics might have returned to Atlanta on Monday with their season on the line if not for Jerebko’s exploits. The team had some of his familiar energy after Sunday's overtime win sent them on the road with momentum and a hope of taking control of the series.
"I was due to make some [shots],” Jerebko said. “I missed three in a row in the first half and they all felt good. I just tried to keep my stance and my follow through. I knew they were going in."
Jerebko signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Celtics last summer. His contract is not guaranteed for next season but, with the way he's playing, a $5 million value will be a steal, especially with the salary cap rising.
Jerebko averaged just 15.1 minutes per game during the 2015-16 season, the second-lowest number of his NBA career. Heck, he hadn't previously started a game since March 11, 2013. But he's showing his value in the postseason. He was ready when Stevens called on him -- newborn baby at home and all.
"The body feels great," Jerebko said. "I’ve been working out all year and I'm in great shape. Just feels good to be out there."