When Boston Celtics fans learned early last month that Kyrie Irving has been ruled out for the rest of the season, it hit them like a freight train. They already had to go through an entire regular season without Gordon Hayward, whose first season in Beantown looked ephemeral after he sustained a gruesome lower-body injury right in the very first game of the 2017-18 campaign.
Just when the Celtics appeared to figure out a way to win without Hayward with less than two weeks away before the playoffs, they received the stunning news that Irving wouldn’t play another game this year following knee surgery. Imagine going to an Iron Chef competition without your sharpest knife or being Tristan Thompson going home without a good alibi. That was the Celtics’ situation then.
To many, learning that Irving update came with the sound of the death knell for the Celtics’ season. Fortunately for Boston fans, Terry Rozier did not hear any of it. Whether it’s because he refused to hear it or his ears were just stuffed with confidence, the thing is, the Celtics are still alive and kicking in the playoffs with Scary Terry doing an admirable job of keeping the C’s heads above water.
When the Celtics lost Hayward, they had fallback options. Jaylen Brown was coming off a promising rookie campaign and was ready to fill a bigger role on the team. The Celtics also have Jayson Tatum, who has greatly mitigated the impact of Hayward’s loss, particularly on offense. Tatum may not win the Rookie of the Year, but he’s in the conversation, as he finished the regular season with 13.9 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 43.4 percent from behind the arc.
Losing Hayward was one thing. Not having both Hayward and Irving in the playoffs seemed like a playoff death sentence just a few weeks ago. Minus Irving, the Celtics’ playmaking and court generalship were suddenly at the mercy of a backcourt that consists of Rozier, a then still-injured Marcus Smart, and Shane Larkin. Irving led Boston in the regular season with 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game, while Rozier and Larkin combined for 15.6 points and 4.7 dimes per contest.
The perception that the Celtics, following Irving’s season-ending surgery, were proverbially circling down the drain did not last long, with Terry Rozier playing like the second coming of Sam Jones in these playoffs.
Right from the first game of the postseason against the Bucks, Rozier showed that the Celtics’ backcourt is in good hands by scoring 23 points on 7-for-18 shooting in 40 minutes of a 113-107 win. He duplicated that performance with another 23-point outing in Game 2 with a much-better 8-for-14 shooting in a 120-106 victory.
Anyone can get hot in a game or two in the playoffs. Some dude who goes by the name of Leon Powe once upon a time scored 21 points in an NBA Finals game. But Rozier’s demeanor and palpable confidence have effectively snuffed out claims that those two games were flukes.
Rozier added more fantastic performances to his playoffs resume as the series against Milwaukee went deeper. He saved the best for last when he unloaded 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting with five triples in a 112-96 Game 7 win at home to ensure himself that no one goes home after that game not knowing his name, including his good pal, Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe.
Eric Bledsoe may not like it, but he’s become part of Rozier’s playoff backdrop. Bledsoe’s beef with Rozier gave the Celtics guard added publicity. Matched up against a better-known and more experienced player, Rozier embarrassed his counterpart by outplaying Bledsoe in the entire first round.
If it were not for his tiff with Bledsoe, Rozier wearing a Drew Bledsoe New England Patriots jersey to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers would have been looked at as a hilarious fashion faux pas. Instead, it was perceived as a textbook example of a perfect troll job. It also helped that Bledsoe is from Kentucky and that Rozier is from Louisville, giving the two a good foundation for a rivalry.
Back in the regular season when Irving was healthy, Rozier only averaged 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 25.9 minutes per game. In the playoffs. Rozier has upped the ante and is putting up 19.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. He is also shooting a ridiculous 43.8 percent from downtown, making 3.5 treys on 8.0 attempts per game.
Plus, Rozier has been dependable of late in the clutch for Boston. Irving used to be the Celtics’ crunch time money man, and without him, Rozier willingly took on the pressure at the end of games. According to NBA.com, Rozier leads the team with 4.8 clutch points per game in the postseason – fourth-most among all players in these playoffs.
After making his mark in the first round series against the Bucks, Rozier and the Celtics entered the next series against Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and the Sixers as a rare home underdog. Rozier and the Celtics flipped the script and unleashed a flurry of 3-pointers. They bombed away from deep and buried 17 3-pointers, seven of which came from Rozier’s smoldering hands. He finished with a team-high 29 points.
Maybe Rozier wearing that Drew Bledsoe Pats jersey was more than just about trolling Eric Bledsoe. The former New England quarterback’s 2001 injury paved the way for the Tom Brady era in Foxborough and the launching of one of the most successful pro sports dynasties in history. Drew Bledsoe never got the job back from Brady ever again. In fact, he never played another snap for New England after his collision with New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis.
We’re not saying Rozier has done enough to steal the starting job away from Irving permanently, but if he sustains his play for the rest of the postseason, who knows, Scary Terry might go from a backup, to playoff hero, to regular starter down the road.