Canada’s Andrew Nembhard shatters career-high scoring mark against Celtics

Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) drives past Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals, Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Go back seven months, surrounded by the same circumstances, and Andrew Nembhard wasn’t ready for the moment.

On Nov. 1 against the Boston Celtics, the Aurora, Ont. native was pushed into the Indiana Pacers starting lineup for an injured Tyrese Haliburton and the outcome was disastrous. Boston scored 155 points (the team’s most since the 1958-59 season) while Nembhard finished with 14 points on 35 per cent shooting, going 1-for-7 from distance as a minus-22 in a 51-point loss.

Yet on Saturday, filling in yet again for an injured Haliburton against the Celtics — with the added pressure of facing a 3-0 deficit in the East Finals with a loss — Nembhard rose to the occasion.

The 24-year-old had 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first half, surpassing his previous playoff career-high of 20 points for an entire game. By the end of the night, Nembhard finished with 32 points, more than his previous regular-season career-high of 31 points, on 57 per cent shooting from the field and deep while racking up nine assists.

He helped carve out a lead as large as 18 points as Indiana tried to keep its undefeated (6-0) home playoff record intact without their All-Star point guard available.

Unfortunately for Pacers’ fans, Nembhard wasn’t able to completely overcome the obstacle that is the No. 1-seeded Celtics. Boston mounted a comeback in the second half — largely thanks to Jayson Tatum’s near-triple-double (36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and Al Horford drilling seven threes — and eked out a 114-111 victory.

In the game’s waning moments, Nembhard showed his inexperience as a sophmore in the league, taking a Tatum miss and pushing it up the floor against four Celtics. Boston’s Jrue Holiday was his primary defender and the six-time All-Defence team member easily stripped Nembhard and got fouled going the other way to effectively seal the game.

It’s was a moment of weakness in an otherwise near-perfect game from the former 31st-overall pick, and one he’ll surely learn from.

Nembhard may at least get some comfort knowing his teammates were quick to show their support following his career night.

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“I’m proud of his growth,” said Pascal Siakam after dropping 22 points of his own. “It takes a lot of maturity and growth to be able to step in there and play the way that he did tonight.”

T.J. McConnell went on to add that there’s “no bigger fan of (Nembhard’s) game than me,” while head coach Rick Carlilse described the Canadian as “courageous,” for his performance.

Nembhard and the Pacers will return to action on Monday as they look to hold off the Celtics and avoid elimination.

If the Pacers lose, Nembhard’s next stop could be Paris. He has expressed interest in playing for Canada at the Olympics.

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