BOSTON – For years, Terry Rozier longed for an opportunity to start in the NBA.
Looking back on his 2015 draft class, the only other first-round pick that year who has played in the NBA but never started a game besides Rozier, was ex-Celtic R.J. Hunter.
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All changed Wednesday night when Rozier filled in for an injured Kyrie Irving (right quadriceps) and proceeded to fill up the stat sheet, finishing with his first triple-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists as the Celtics pulled away in a 103-73 whipping of the Knicks.
Even before the breakout performance, Rozier’s confidence has always been high; high enough to where he’s always thought he was good enough to be a starter in the NBA.
“I said it and I meant it,” he said. “I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything because I got a triple-double in my first start. That’s what I truly believe in. That’s my goal, no matter where I’m at. Right now, I’m just focused on the moment whether I’m a starter or not. I play hard for my team.”
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And to his credit, when the opportunity presented itself, he was more than up to the challenge.
It’s easy to overlook that, unlike most guards selected in the first round, Rozier has spent his entire NBA career playing in the shadow of an All-Star at his position.
First, it was Isaiah Thomas (now in Cleveland), and now it’s Kyrie Irving.
Having a breakout game is indeed a nice confidence booster, but the true barometer of Rozier’s growth lies in his ability to be consistent.
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He’ll get an opportunity to build off of the strong against New York when the Celtics host the Atlanta Hawks (15-36) tonight as they invade the TD Garden with the worst record in the NBA.
Regardless of how good or woeful the opponent, the Celtics remain focused on who they are and what they can do to improve from one game to the next.
And a big part of that steady growth lies in the play of Rozier, who has come off the bench to play 1,182 minutes this season, which ranks fourth in the NBA in minutes played among reserves.
Celtics veteran Al Horford liked how Rozier let the game essentially come to him.
“I just felt Terry was very assertive, taking what the defense gave him,” Horford said. “He didn’t really overthink it too much. It was good to see.”
And as good as Rozier was, he’s smart enough to know that this is still Irving’s team.
When a reporter jokingly asked Rozier if he was going to let Irving have his job back, he chuckled before adding, “He can have it back. That’s my teammate, that’s my teammate. But just know, if he’s not playing, I’m here for him. I got his back.”