As Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier approached the group of reporters waiting for him Wednesday in the locker room, he was well aware of what he just accomplished against the Orlando Magic.
On a night in which the Celtics were without their leading scorer Isaiah Thomas, the team knew it would take a collective effort in order to defeat a Magic team that had won four out of their last five games heading into the contest.
While it was Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder that carried the bulk of the scoring load for the Celtics, Rozier’s career-high 16 points off of the bench proved to be a huge boost for the team as they defeated the Magic by 30 points on the road.
“I just try to play hard defensively,” Rozier said on what sparked his night. “I got some run outs on offense and I just started feeling good about myself. We started drawing up plays and [it allowed] me to work with a lot of room, so I got to play. I felt like I was in college again a little bit.”
In just his second year in the league, Rozier is seeing a bigger role in the rotation than he did during his rookie season. He appeared in just 39 games last season with the Celtics and also spent 14 games down in the D-League with the Maine Red Claws.
Simply put, there just weren’t enough minutes to go around for everyone. With Thomas starting, the team also had Bradley, Evan Turner and Marcus Smart playing significant minutes in the lineup as well. As the rookie, Rozier was the odd man out. Now, Rozier seems to have carved out a role with Turner out of the picture.
“Terry is a good player,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “I think what speaks to his upside is that we really have two point guards that are really good players as well with him. He still plays and is still in our rotation because we just kind of have to find a way to get him on the floor. I think that he’ll continue to improve.”
Rozier is a player who can impact games in a variety of different ways. He also understands that the team may not need him to go out and be their top scorer. With Thomas, Bradley, Crowder and others available to handle the scoring duties, his ability to be a pest on defense and provide high-energy plays can provide enough for the team on most nights.
With Thomas unavailable against Orlando, he knew that he had to step up offensively. The results were encouraging for the Celtics as Rozier looked to be extremely comfortable running the offense. He finished the night shooting 6-of-13 from the field and he also added five rebounds, two assists and a steal.
He made a number of key plays down the stretch for the team to hold off the Magic. On one sequence in the fourth quarter, Rozier made Aaron Gordon miss badly on a crossover with the shot clock winding down. Rozier dribbled toward the top of the key and knocked down the shot as the shot clock expired.
“Terry is super talented,” Jaylen Brown said. “He can do a lot of things with the basketball. It’s just about picking your spots, and going when he needs to go. His confidence is as high as anybody else’s. It’s just about getting what the team needs at times.
“When me and Terry get in, we talk to each other. We say we just got to run and that’s our focus. We’re young. We just try to get up and down the floor; it makes the game a little bit easier for us and we get good shots out of it. … Terry was doing what Terry does.”
Thomas was held out of last night’s game due to a groin injury that he suffered in the team’s previous game on Monday against the Houston Rockets. It’s likely that injury will keep him sidelined for at least one more game as the team wants to be cautious and not rush him back into the lineup.
In the meantime, if the Celtics can continue to play like they did last night without Thomas, they’ll be in good shape moving forward if Thomas should miss additional time. Even without their top scorer, the Celtics scored 117 points on a Magic defense that currently ranks 10th in defensive efficiency. The team seems to understand that it’ll take a group effort to step up in place of Thomas.
For Rozier, having the opportunity step up and help his team will surely be a confidence booster moving forward. He’s averaging just 18.5 minutes per game this season, but played 26 minutes last night. He also seems to have earned the trust from his coach as well.
“It’s huge for my confidence,” Rozier said. “It’s just huge for me [and] it’s huge for us. When I get in there, I’m not really worried about scoring. I’m just worried about playing as hard defense as I can play, making my opponent work and then I know the offensive end will open up for me. I’ve been a scorer all my life so that’s what I try to pride myself on. It feels good.”
Rozier’s improved play this season is likely a welcomed signed for a bench unit that ranks in the bottom half of the league in scoring. They currently rank 22nd in scoring with 31 points per game. While their starting unit is among the best in scoring, a strong bench is also key over the course of the season.
The Celtics were pegged by many to be serious contenders in the Eastern Conference this season. Adding an All-Star in Al Horford has certainly helped the team’s case to contend, but if players like Rozier, Brown and Smart can continue to perform well in the second unit, that should help the team’s chances even more.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN