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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics trailed 113-110 with 10.8 seconds left in regulation Saturday night, and needed nothing less than a 3-pointer to stay alive against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The seemingly obvious solution in that situation would be to turn to Isaiah Thomas, Boston’s typical crunch time hero.
Brad Stevens, however, correctly assumed that the opposition would be draped all over IT at the 3-point line, so the coach mentally crossed off his name as an option as he prepared the team during their last-second timeout on the sideline.
Other players in the game that he could turn to included Jae Crowder, the team’s most efficient 3-point shooter, Al Horford, a poised veteran who has been called on in numerous high-pressure situations during his career, and Marcus Smart, who has been known to come through in the clutch on occasion.
Yet, Stevens opted to draw up a play for the most inexperienced Celtic on the court – second-year guard Terry Rozier.
Boston emerged from its timeout and Smart took inbounding duties on the right side of the court. Rozier curled around two screens set by Thomas and Horford at the top of the arc, and just as the speedy guard broke past Horford’s pick on Shabazz Napier, Smart fed him the rock above the right break. Rozier immediately rose up off the catch from 27 feet out, and as soon as it left his hands he knew it was going to fall through the cup.
“It felt good, I’m not going to lie,” said Rozier. “I saw it the whole time and it felt pretty good.”
As soon as Rozier’s overtime-forcing shot swished through the basket, the TD Garden crowd went into a frenzy. It would turn out to be Boston’s final high note of the night, as it fell to Portland, 127-123 in overtime, but it was a critical moment for Rozier and his growth.
It marked the first time in his career that he was called on with a game on the line. Following the game, the glowing, young point guard said his confidence was “through the roof” knowing that Stevens had faith in him during such a critical situation.
“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier, who finished with 15 points off the bench during the loss. “It just shows the trust and growth that we are having as the season progresses.”
Rozier has shown tremendous improvement in his shooting from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign. His field goal percentage has jumped from 27.4 percent to 38.3 percent, and his 3-point percentage has risen from 22.2 percent to 32.1 percent.
“He’s a really good shooter, and I think with more opportunity that will show itself true,” said Stevens. “He made some big ones in the fourth quarter (tonight). We went to him a few different times out of timeouts, and felt good about him making that one.”
Stevens also drew up an ATO play for Rozier when Boston was trailing 95-90 with 8:27 remaining in the game. Rozier came through with a 3-pointer on that possession as well, which warmed up his hand and set the stage for his heroic shot at the end of regulation.
“We have a lot of confidence in Terry,” said Thomas. “We know what he can do, and he played big tonight.”
The fact that the Celtics were willing to turn to their most inexperienced player on the court proves the trust they have in their young players. It also shows that Boston can count on a number of different weapons when a game is on the line.