BOSTON -- “I'm dead in the middle of two generations, I'm little bro and big bro all at once..."
Those lyrics are from J. Cole’s latest, titled "Middle Child", which speaks to some of the challenges of being youthful relative to one’s contemporaries while at the same time, leaned upon like a veteran because of one’s experience or proven track record at an early age.
Welcome to Terry Rozier’s world, one in which he is seen as a 25-year-old on the rise but at the same time, an experienced talent that can be leaned upon to play like a savvy veteran.
Based on how he stepped up in the postseason for the Celtics, he is viewed from one lens as a respected veteran on this team.
But the return of Kyrie Irving to the playoffs, after a year off because of injury, is a reminder that Rozier is still a young player whose best days as a player are ahead of him.
Navigating the state of being on the rise and pseudo-established, at least in the eyes of the Milwaukee Bucks, is among the more pressing challenges awaiting Rozier and the Celtics with their best-of-seven, second-round series beginning this weekend.
Still, when he’s on the floor, Rozier tries to keep things as simple as possible.
“Just trying to make winning plays, try to put my team in position to feed off some energy,” Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. “Go in there and give it all on the court. That’s what I’m trying to be, lead by example when I get out there. Make the right plays, be a ballplayer and have some fun out there.”
"I'm all in my bag, this hard as it get."
Rozier appeared to have lots of fun against the Bucks in the playoffs last year, delivering a series of ankle-breaking, highlight-reel-quality plays that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
He's well aware that his role this go-around will be very different.
A year ago, Rozier was a starter in place of an injured Kyrie Irving and performed well above expectations, which was among the keys to Boston escaping its first-round series with the Bucks in seven games.
It also sparked an on-the-floor war of words with Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe.
“Listen, man, where I’m from we love that,” Rozier said. “We don’t back down from confrontation or none of that. If you’re gonna talk stuff you gotta back it up.
Rozier added, “At the end of the day, it’s about fun. We respect each other. Like I’ve been saying, ain’t nobody out here a boxer or anything like that. If so, that’s what the summertime is for. But right now, it’s the playoffs; just looking to spice things up and have some fun at the end of the day.”
For Rozier, fun - at least in this series - will have to be defending at a high level.
With no Marcus Smart (oblique tear) for the foreseeable future, the Celtics have benefited from several players helping to step up and fill the gap that exists in the Celtics defense without Smart around.
No one seems to have utilized Smart’s absence to benefit them more than Rozier, who put up some impressive defensive numbers in Boston’s first-round series against Indiana.
In the Indiana series, Rozier was arguably Boston’s best perimeter defender.
According to Sports Spectrum data, Pacers players defended by Rozier shot just 25 percent (7-for-28) from the field while scoring a total of 22 points in what was 142 possessions.
And watching him compete now, Rozier’s play defensively now is reminiscent to his days with the Louisville Cardinals under then-coach (and former Celtics coach) Rick Pitino.
“Terry, he’s disruptive,” said Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry, who also handles the C's defense. “When he’s at his best, he’s back in his old Pitino days where he’s picking the ball up full court, pressuring guys, he’s taking time off the clock from the team. And their offense, they have to start a little further out. His pressure, his energy that he brings to us, that lifts other guys.”
And that lift in this series will come by way of his defense, a departure of sorts from what we saw from Rozier the last time he was in the postseason facing the Bucks.
“I feel like if I control my defensive energy, everything else will take care of itself,” Rozier said. “I can obviously put the ball in the hoop; just trying to let the defensive things take care of that, worry about that. And everything else will take care of itself. Now obviously with [Marcus] Smart being out, we’re gonna need my defensive presence off the bench and be impactful.”
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