Late in the third quarter of the Celtics ‘ 103-79 win over Philadelphia on Sunday night, Greg Stiemsma  picked up a foul when he tried to block the shot of Evan Turner . No big deal. Stiemsma fouls a lot. He commits seven fouls per 36 minutes, easily the highest rate on the team.
But the Celtics didn’t think he fouled. Doc Rivers  argued the call. Kevin Garnett  argued the call from his seat on the bench and Rajon Rondo  ran across the court to get his two cents in with referee Tony Brothers. Their protests fell on deaf ears, as it turned out, because Stiemsma picked up two more fouls in the next 58 seconds, giving him three in less than a minute and five for the game.
“I think he’s playing great [defense],” Rivers said. “He’s a rookie, let’s just chalk it up to that. He feels like the picked-on one every night. I try to explain to all those guys, if it can go to three of your guys and you’re a ref, you’re going to say, ‘Should I give it to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce , Ray Allen ? I’m going to give it to Stiemer.’ That’s how you feel a lot with him. No fun to be in that position, but that’s where he’s at.”
Rivers was being diplomatic, but now that Stiemsma has emerged as the top big man off the bench and a 20-minute a night player, the Celtics need to get the word out that the big rookie can play defense. More importantly, they need to get out the word that Stiemsma can play defense without fouling.
Also diplomatically, Stiemsma said it was on him.
“You’ve got to clean it up, plain and simple,” Stiemsma said. “You got to limit contact and be in the right position. That’s probably the biggest thing. If I’m out of position in any way it’s going to look like a foul, whether it is or not.”
Over the last seven games, Stiemsma has fouled out twice and been called for five fouls in three different games. In all, he’s been tagged for 30 fouls in those seven games, and that includes a game without a personal against the Spurs. He’s also blocked 15 shots in that time span, which is part of the issue.
“The instinct is if I’m going to be late, if I can get there a half-step quicker or maybe just jump a little more straight up,” he said. “Maybe not try to block everything, maybe just alter some stuff, get in the way sometimes. I’m really trying to work on positioning. With a guy like Kevin to show you the way, to really be in the right spot all the time, you couldn’t ask for a better teacher. Be in the right position, then the blocks will come.”
This has been a fairly incredible season for the 26-year-old veteran of Europe and the D-League. He made the team on a non-guaranteed contract and emerged as an unlikely bench savior at a time of great need. He’s gone from a curiosity to a legitimate player, and if the Celtics wind up playing Orlando, Indiana or Chicago in the playoffs, he’ll be an extremely important player. He just needs to be able to stay on the court.