BOSTON — This is the moment Terry Rozier has been waiting for. Now, it’s time for him to deliver, both for Celtics and his future.
When Kyrie Irving went under the knife for a second time on his knee, Rozier knew Irving was done for the year and he would be called upon to step up for the Celtics at the point. Funny thing is, he wanted to be sure to call upon Irving first – literally.
“He’s a guy that wants to see other guys succeed, and that’s what makes him a leader,” Rozier said. “He’s been effective, even when he’s not play, still making guys feel comfortable, still being around, laughing and joking. I actually got his number and I’m not afraid to reach out to him. I already did. He’s a guy who wants to see other guys succeed. That’s what makes him a leader. We didn’t talk about (strategy). I just told him be looking at your phone.”
When Rozier isn’t dialing up Irving, he’ll be trying to dial in the Celtics against the Bucks on the floor. He’s already prepping the likes of Jayson Tatum, Guerschon Yabusele and Shane Larkin for their first taste of NBA playoff action.
“If you love basketball, you being in this position,” Rozier said. “(Playoff rookies) will notice how crazy the fans go. It gives every person who loves basketball goose bumps. Go out play hard but have fun. (I’m) super-excited, super-excited. Three years and third time in the playoffs. This is a great opportunity for us and I’m looking forward to it.”
Ever since the Celtics selected him out of Louisville with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, the slick guard has shown glimpses of his talent and leadership.
“I have to lead these guys and that’s understandable. Basically, I have to control the game, fill in for (Irving) and do what a starting point guard is supposed to do, filling Kyrie’s shoes as much as I can. Sometimes it might come down to taking tough shots and making them. Just do what I can to give this team a boost and put us in position to win.”
Rozier almost said “crazy shots” but he caught himself and that’s a good sign in itself. That’s what he’s going to have to do: See the game fast but not out of control, catching himself and make the right decision.
But his wait in line has been well documented. From the moment he arrived, he was behind the likes of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas. In June 2016, they selected Jaylen Brown No. 3 overall. Then this offseason, the Celtics selected Jayson Tatum third overall and traded for Irving as their point guard of the future to go with Brown and Tatum.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) April 13, 2018
Rozier was left to battle with the very uniquely skilled Marcus Smart for ball-handling minutes off Boston’s bench.
But through it all Rozier was patient and focused on the end goal. The point guard who has publicly insisted his career goal is to start (somewhere) in the NBA played it perfectly in the eyes of those who matter the most, his coaches and teammates.
The irony of this moment is that in the Bucks, Rozier is facing a team that could desperately use a guard of his skill set. The Celtics exercised his option in the fall but – with Irving presumably staying put in Boston – Rozier could do a lot for his career as starter with a big performance on the playoff stage.
Now, with Gordon Hayward not coming back, Irving down for the season, Smart out at least until the very end of the first round and the Celtics looking for an experienced ball handler, offensive facilitator, rebounder and capable defender, all eyes will be on Rozier with the opening tip of Game 1 Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
“I think there’s been a chip on our shoulders since Hayward went down,” Rozier said. “There’s been a lot of people doubting us from that point, then we went on the 16-game win streak and then everybody hopped back on the bandwagon, which we understand. We’ve got to come out with a chip and we’ve got to be the harder-to-play team.”
No one is better suited to carry that chip into this series than Rozier.