Celtics

It's time for Terry Rozier to step up . . . and he has

It's time for Terry Rozier to step up . . . and he has

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.

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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.

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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.”

And toughness.

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.”

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Marcus Smart hoping locker room outburst will inspire teammates

Marcus Smart hoping locker room outburst will inspire teammates

BRIGHTON, Mass. - As Celtics players stewed in the visitor’s locker room following the loss in Portland on Sunday night that ended a dismal 1-4 road trip, veteran Marcus Smart addressed his teammates, demanding that players stop making excuses for the team’s uneven play and begin putting in the effort necessary to thrive.

Smart, who could be seen visibly upset on the bench as the Celtics lost in Utah on Friday night, said his frustrations had been building throughout the lackluster trip and he thought somebody in the locker room needed to verbalize that Boston’s underwhelming play was unacceptable.

"I hate losing. I probably hate losing more than I love winning,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston after practice Tuesday at the Auerbach Center. "Especially with the team that we have and the potential that we have, we shouldn’t be losing games that we know we should win. Let alone, getting down 20 early and putting more pressure on ourselves and more stress on ourselves to come back.”

His message to the team?

"Just that we can’t be OK with being fighters. Brad came in and he gave us the whole speech about, ‘You know you guys are fighters, you’re resilient,' for us to keep coming back down 20. But, as a team, I just felt like we shouldn’t even accept being down 20 and having to fight to come back. And there’s only so much that Brad and the coaching staff can do.

"We cannot be OK with that. We have to look ourselves in the mirror, look at one another, hold each other accountable, and figure out what’s going on.”

Even Smart isn’t sure what exactly is wrong with the Celtics but both he and his teammates have suggested that it might simply boil down to not putting forth the sort of effort and energy necessary over the full 48 minutes. Smart, who was one of the Celtics’ more consistent energy-givers on the five-game trip, said he felt like someone other than the coaching staff had to tell the team that they needed to figure it out.

"We needed to hear something because obviously what we’re doing isn’t working,” said Smart. "The norm of just coming in and, ‘Hey, we’re going to figure it out.’ The definition of insanity, everybody knows, is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. So it’s insane. 

“It’s something that I just felt like, I was tired of it so I know those guys were. So I just said what was on my mind. I’m sure everybody else was thinking it, but I just said it. I hope they didn’t take it the wrong way and I hope it gives us the boost that we need because we have a chance to be really great. But not at the rate we’re going.”

Stevens wasn’t surprised to find out that Smart had tried to light a fire under his teammates.

"I've seen nothing change about Marcus Smart since he walked in the building. He's been that way since he got here, and he's been willing to step up and say things since he's been here,” said Stevens. "He wears his heart on his sleeve, as you all know, and he's extremely passionate. 

"But he hates to lose. Obviously, we all do, and it's been a tough stretch. We've played good teams. They've outplayed us. And, at the same time, Marcus is a guy whose voice you expect to hear.”

Smart, the No. 6 pick in the 2014 draft, is easily Boston’s longest-tenured player. Now in his fifth year, Smart said he felt the locker room simply needed to hear a voice speak up.

"I expect, if they feel like I’m not doing my job, to say something to me as well,” said Smart. I feel like as a team, we weren’t doing our job — as a team. So I felt like we should hear that. I wasn’t going to wait for anybody else to say it. That’s kinda the thing, everybody waits for somebody else to do it, but it could have been done by you. So I just decided to say it.”

Smart said it’s unfathomable how Celtics players can come to practice each day and beat each other up, playing a high level of basketball, and then look like a shell of themselves in games. He wants that to change immediately.

"We come into practice every day and we beat each other up,” said Smart. "Then we get out there and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to beat these guys,’ or, ‘We don’t want to fight.’

"We're no longer the hunter. We’re the hunted now. Everybody is coming after us, everybody sees and reads what’s been said and what we’ve done. And, rightfully so as competitors, they take it as a disrespect to them, they want to go out and prove what they can do, so we’re going to get everybody’s best game. And if we’re not expecting that then, we’re going to continue to keep going into these deficits and getting our ass kicked.”

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