WALTHAM, Mass. – Moments after R.J. Hunter stepped on the floor in Boston’s Game 2 matchup on Tuesday, he briefly lost sight of Atlanta’s Kyle Korver who made both Hunter and the Celtics pay with one of his five, 3-pointers in the first half.
Later on, Terry Rozier committed a 24-second violation and immediately followed it up with a technical foul after he threw the ball at Hawks guard Dennis Schroeder who Rozier said afterwards grabbed his arm but no call was made.
These are the kind of rookie mistakes that rookies make.
But it’s the playoffs, a time when most rookies who saw time sparingly in the regular season like Hunter and Rozier are bench warmers who will only sniff the court during pre-game shooting and blowouts.
But each will be counted on to provide meaningful minutes going forward as the Celtics try to dig themselves out of a huge 2-0 series hole that will require just about everyone – rookies included – to step their game up beginning with Friday night’s Game 3 matchup at the TD Garden.
Needing both to be contributors is a scary proposition when you consider how little each played during the season.
Hunter saw action in 36 games, averaging 2.7 points on 36.7 percent shooting from the field and 30.2 percent shooting from 3-point range. Rozier averaged 1.8 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.9 assists but shot just 27.4 percent from the field and 22.2 percent on 3s.
In addition, Hunter and Rozier played 8.8 and 8.0 minutes per game, respectively.
Their opportunity to play is in large part because of Avery Bradley’s right hamstring injury which is expected to keep him out for the remainder of this series.
Indeed, Hunter is looking to build off of his first playoff appearance.
“It’s not like it’s a totally different game,” Hunter said. “I just think cuts are harder, and everybody’s playing just a tad bit harder.”
For Hunter who missed all three of his shot attempts but did manage to block one shot, there were plenty of teachable moments that should help him better prepare for Game 3.
How to defend Korver ranks near the top of the list.
“As hard as he (Korver) cuts in the regular season, he cuts two times harder (in the playoffs),” Hunter said. “And he did it all game. I think I got lost a couple times watching the ball. He’s going to get open shots, but I have to limit that as much as possible.”
While the outcome certainly wasn’t what Terry Rozier was looking for, there’s no denying his play was among the few positives that Boston could take from Game 2.
The 6-foot-2 guard had 10 points off the bench on 4-for-7 shooting which included making two of his three, 3-point attempts. He also managed to grab four rebounds and tally one of Boston’s 10 blocked shots.
But the technical foul he picked up just 63 seconds into the second quarter – and moments after he was whistled for a 24-second violation - was a sequence that stood out for him … and not in a good way.
“I wasn’t thinking,” Rozier said. “That’s something that can’t happen again, especially early in my career. I can’t be doing nothing like that. I talked to a lot of my coaches … it’s something that won’t happen again.
Both players have spent the bulk of their rookie seasons on the bench or making the trek between Boston and Portland, Maine to play for the Celtics’ Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
There are some who might second-guess the Celtics for not playing them more earlier this season just in case they would be counted on to play a more significant role in the playoffs – the situation they are in currently.
But the Celtics were focused on getting back to the playoffs preferably with a higher seed than they were last season.
That meant making winning more of a priority than developing young talent.
But to the credit of the young players and the Celtics, both players seemed ready to play when they were given unexpected opportunities during the regular season.
A Marcus Smart injury back in November kept the 6-foot-4 guard out for 18 games. During that time, both Hunter and Rozier saw an increased role with Hunter appearing in 12 games during that span while Rozier was on the floor for 10 games.
Hunter at times showcased the shooting touch that made the Celtics feel fortunate that he was still on the board when they scooped him up with the 28th overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
And while Rozier’s minutes have been more limited, the tail end of the season saw him on the floor more often and to his credit, he made his presence felt especially when it came to rebounding – something the Celtics saw as one of his strengths when they surprised many in taking him with the 16th overall pick in last June’s draft.
Now, after spending most of their rookie seasons on the bench or in Maine, each will be given an opportunity to play a meaningful role in the grandest stage of them all – the playoffs.
“That’s why you practice every day; that’s why you go up to Maine, that’s why you continue to watch film, that’s why off days you come in to get shots up,” Stevens said. “That’s why you prepare every day in case your moment arrives. A lot of guy’s moment arrives in January or February, that are young. In our case, middle of the playoffs.”