BOSTON -- Terry Rozier wasn’t supposed to be on the floor in the waning moments of a playoff game, with everything on the line.
This was supposed to be Kyrie Irving or Marcus Smart’s time, the point in the game when your best scorers (Irving) or defenders (Smart) put the team on their back and carry the squad to victory.
Terry Rozier may not be Kyrie Irving (out for the season following left knee surgery) or Marcus Smart (right thumb surgery, may be back for a Game 7 versus the Bucks at the earliest), but it’s hard to not recognize that the 6-foot-2 guard is built for these moments.
In the first half of Boston’s Game 1 matchup against Boston, Rozier looked the part that so many had cast him to be – a backup getting big minutes because the real star isn’t available.
And that slight, something Rozier is all too familiar with dating back to college and on the eve of the NBA draft when most pundits saw him as a “reach” for the Celtics at No. 16, is only added fuel to a young man who has dreamed of being on the floor with the game up in the air, the ball in his hands.
Some players are groomed and coached for those moments.
And then there are players like Rozier who steps on the floor with Teflon-tough confidence that regardless of the score, regardless of how he may have played up until that point, he’s going to give his team a chance to win when it matters.
That was how Sunday’s game was playing out.
For three-plus quarters of so-so basketball, Rozier had a chance to break open a 96-all tie with just a few ticks left on the game clock.
And in typical Scary Terry fashion, he showed no signs of hesitation in draining a 3-pointer that we all thought was the game-winner, a shot that put the Celtics ahead 99-96 with 0.5 seconds to play.
But following a Bucks time-out, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton drained a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime.
And so the Celtics found themselves in overtime which would once again challenge the team’s maturity and mental toughness to not let Middleton’s big shot be their demise.
“Well I think you can tell a lot from the fight on the tip, and you know we got the tip after two tips and running through the ball to get a loose ball, and that’s when I knew we were re-set,” said coach Brad Stevens. “I knew they wouldn’t hang their head about it, they’re – sometimes I think they’re at their best when those things happen. You know? I think it’s just a really resilient group of kids. Not kids, men.”
The clarification on Stevens’ part should not be ignored.
Because what we saw on Sunday was yet another sign of the transformation of this team which began the season as the fifth-youngest club in the NBA with lots of youth, to a battle-tested bunch that plays with more poise, purpose and production that’s beyond their years.
And while we spend a lot of time talking about Jayson Tatum along those lines, Rozier has proven he too has come of age at a time when the Celtics absolutely need him.
“Terry’s a stud,” Stevens said. “Terry is a hard-nosed guy. He’s got great ability.”
More than any trait, it is Rozier’s toughness that enables him to give both himself and the Celtics a shot at success whenever he’s on the floor.
“This is my third time in the playoffs and it just keeps getting better,” said Rozier who acknowledged his shot at major playing time in the playoffs was due to Boston’s unusually high rash of injuries. “It’s unfortunate what happened to our teammates throughout the whole year, but we still got each other and we still got to fight, still got to win.”