Greg Stiemsma gets confidence boost

BOSTON -- In a way, it was Stuart Smalley sans the yellow button-down shirt and powder blue cardigan. Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers watched rookie center Greg Stiemsma pass up a couple of open looks in practice during training camp and decided he needed a little self-affirmation.

So Rivers blew his whistle and told the 6-foot-11 Stiemsma to go stand in front of his teammates and repeat the phrase, "My name is Greg Stiemsma and I'm a shooter."

"We kept making him repeat it," Rivers recalled. "Everybody was laughing. He said, 'I can shoot. I'm a shooter.' And he is."

Stiemsma arrived in Boston last month with the reputation as a defensive-minded big man capable of one thing: blocking shots. That made him the D-League Defensive Player of the Year, but it hadn't landed him an NBA job.

Size-craving Boston gave him that opportunity and, with Jermaine O'Neal sidelined by a sore left hamstring on Monday night, Stiemsma was thrust into the starting lineup against the Washington Wizards.

The 26-year-old Stiemsma, whose lore had already grown after he blocked six shots in his NBA debut last week in New Orleans, responded by registering 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists over 21 minutes in Boston's 100-92 triumph at TD Garden.

Stiemsma smiled sheepishly when told Rivers relayed the story of him having to stand up in front of the team and pump his own tires. But he admitted it did the trick.

"I think I passed up a couple looks in practice, one of the first few workouts and he kind of asked me, 'What are you?'" Stiemsa said. "And I said, 'I don't know, shooter?' He kind of made me say it a few more times and it started to sink in a little bit more."

That confidence was obvious in the third quarter with what Rivers called his favorite moment of the game. Stiemsma missed a 16-foot jumper in the opening minute of the quarter, but the ball swung right back to him the next trip down. In training camp, he might have passed up the look. Now?

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and doggone it, people like it when he shoots the ball.

Stiemsma made both an 8- and 22-foot jumper in little more than a minute, showcasing his full range, while Boston erased a small deficit. Stiemsma finished the third with eight points in seven minutes, the crowd roaring with every field goal.

"Stiemsma was terrific, he was absolutely wonderful," Rivers gushed. "And I was so happy when he just took the shot. My favorite play of the whole game was when he missed a shot and they threw it right back to him and he shot it again. I mean, that's terrific. I thought the whole bench was excited over that because it's what we've been saying.

"He does what he does. For him, the game is simple because he knows what he does. You rarely see him do anything else. He blocks shots, he tries to rebound and he makes his shots. And he's actually a very good passer -- we've had a couple [plays out of timeouts] where he's the passer and he responded very well to that.

"He obviously still has to work on holding his ground in the post, and when guys are over his back. But he's not going to see a lot of freak athletes like [JaVale] McGee. That's where he has to improve, just holding his ground."

Stiemsma earned similar rave reviews from everyone from captain Paul Pierce ("He has a lot of potential. He's really listening.") to the man he filled in for (O'Neal said, "He did fantastic. He's been doing that since the first day of training camp, so we're not surprised.")

But 17-year veteran Kevin Garnett, who spent a lot of time with Stiemsma after practices in training camp, trying to show him the intricacies of the NBA game, may have been most proud of what Stiemsma showed Monday night.

"Seriously, man, I'm happy for Greg," Garnett said. "You see a guy come in here, coming from the bottom, coming from nothing, very appreciative of his opportunity, comes in, works his [butt] off. You're not seeing that. He really comes in and works his [butt] off. A true professional, and you're just happy to see a guy get an opportunity like that, and more importantly him taking advantage of it.

"You know what I hate is that everybody knows who Greg is now. He's not our big secret anymore. Like I said, he has uncanny instincts, can block shots like anybody else, man, like no one I've ever seen. He doesn't look all that fast and quick and explosive, and I think that's kind of his mystique about him. I told him he's in the league now, so he's not going to be that much of a mystique any more, not much of a mystery. But, truth to him, he's worked his behind off to get to where he's at, so I'm just happy for him."

Rivers reaffirmed after the game that O'Neal is the Celtics' starting center, but as Garnett suggested, there's a role for Stiemsma on this team regardless of its health.

Especially if he keeps shooting like he did Monday.

"My jump shot was feeling really good, really confident," Stiemsma said. "Part of that stems from the top, [when Rivers is] confident in it. He wants me to look for it. Whenever I get the opportunity to take it, and it's a good look for the team, I'm going to try to keep knocking it down."

As Smalley would note, "Trace it, face it and erase it."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.