Semi Ojeleye’s career as a Celtic has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride over the past three seasons. From a standout defensive rookie in year one to a rotation afterthought in year two, Ojeleye’s offensive game has always held him back from making a bigger impact. He was being primed to be a one-trick pony on offense by the coaching staff and didn’t do that trick well enough in his first two seasons, shooting a subpar 31 percent from beyond the arc.
Despite those shooting woes, no one in the Celtics organization works harder on his craft than Ojeleye though and amid countless workouts and shooting sessions in year three, improvements have started to surface. He entered Wednesday’s game as a league-average shooter from 3-point range on the year (35.8 percent) and that’s a four percentage point jump from last season.
The internal gains opened the door to increased playing time this year although he has had to battle for minutes at power forward off the bench with Grant Williams, a player with a better all-around offensive skillset. Sometimes, the Celtics defense is at its best when both guys are on the floor as versatile bench bigs but Ojeleye’s chances have largely been matchup dependent amid the revolving door that is Brad Stevens rotation. When he does play, he isn’t asked to shoot much, attempting just 2.7 shots per game in February over 14 minutes per game. He didn’t even see the floor until overtime in Tuesday’s night ugly collapse to the Nets, perhaps fitting that he took no part in allowing a putrid 51 points in the fourth quarter. During the entire month of February, Ojeleye combined for 24 total points on 18 shot attempts.
The circumstances were far different on Wednesday night however for Ojeleye as the Celtics needed to find someone who would make the Cavs pay for constant double teams of Jayson Tatum (32 points) with three regular starters sidelined. G. Williams got the starting nod at power forward but Ojeleye was one of the first subs in the game in the first quarter and was not shy about letting it fly from distance.
He missed his first attempt of the night from downtown but caught fire for the remainder of the evening, knocking down 8-of-11 from the field and 5-of-8 from 3-point range in the midst of a career-high 22 point night.
“It’s nights like this that just keep your faith going,” Ojeleye told reporters in Cleveland. “It just feels like relief, a weight off your shoulders [when shots go in]. You put in the work and you finally get to let it show a little bit. Now it’s time to put in more work.”
With the rest of the Celtics roster outside of Jayson Tatum going 1-of-12 from 3-point range, it’s safe to say the