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.
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