Rozier Shines During Crunch Time vs. Houston
BOSTON – Terry Rozier has spent his rookie season patiently waiting in the wings for a chance to display his talents for the Boston Celtics.
The 21-year-old guard had made a few scattered appearances at the tail end of games of which the outcome was already decided, but he had yet to experience a high-pressure, crunch-time moment.
That is, until Friday night, when coach Brad Stevens called Rozier's number in search of a much-needed energy boost against the Houston Rockets.
Rozier entered the contest at the 2:22 mark of the third quarter when the C’s were down 73-68. Given that it was a critical moment in the game, the 6-foot-2 guard was surprised that Stevens looked his way.
“I didn’t know my number was going to get called,” Rozier later recounted, “but when I got off the bench I was just like, ‘I’m going to play hard no matter what.’”
Rozier delivered with three points, seven rebounds and three beautiful assists during 10 minutes of play, while providing pesky defense against Houston guard Patrick Beverley. His presence, however, ultimately could not get Boston over the hump, as it eventually fell, 102-98; but the young gun showed great promise during his time on the court.
His window of opportunity opened due to an unfortunate circumstance during the third quarter, when Jae Crowder was forced to exit the game after spraining his ankle. Given that Rozier has been showing great progress during practice lately, Stevens opted to go with him during the man-down situation.
“He’s had great workouts every day,” said Stevens. “He’s walked through with our first two groups the last few times, and I feel good about his progress and trust that he’s ready to go.”
Rozier was a bit timid at first, passing up on a couple of scoring opportunities during his first couple of minutes on the court, but he soon found his element after some encouraging words from Stevens on the sideline.
“I heard coach say to be aggressive when I went off the screen,” recalled Rozier. “I was just being a little bit too passive and he knows that’s not me, so I just wanted to look for my shot a little bit more, and that’s what I did.”
He opened up the fourth quarter by canning a trey from the right corner that cut Boston’s deficit to three points. That turned out to be his only basket, but he contributed in other aspects.
During a significant portion of the fourth, Rozier was one of four guards on the court for Boston, and his role was to crash the glass.
“On the [defensive] end, traditional wasn’t as effective because [Houston] had four guards in,” said Stevens, who played Rozier, Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart alongside each other during a three-minute stretch. “Now, their four guards were big and long, but I felt like when we put Terry in – the key question whenever you’re that small is, ‘Can you hold your ground?’ No. 1; No. 2 is, ‘Can you rebound?’”
Rozier was aware that Stevens knew the answer to both of those questions.
“Coach knows I’m a good rebounder, so that’s one of the things I wanted to do,” said Rozier. “Go help our bigs, help our team rebound and just push the ball. Just try to create for my teammates.”
Rozier was flying all over the paint for loose balls, collecting three boards on the offensive end and four on the defensive glass. His athletic rebounding effort assisted Jared Sullinger, who was Boston’s only big on the floor during that four-guard stretch.
Sully said after the game that he was impressed with the poise Rozier showed during his first high-pressure situation.
“He’s an athletic guard that does a lot,” said Sullinger. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of veteran guards around here that [have] proven themselves in the NBA, so he really hasn’t got his fair share of chances out there. But when coach called him, he was ready, and that shows big time about his professionalism.”
Rozier, who, one year ago at this time was running the show at the University of Louisville, says it’s been a challenge taking a back seat on the bench this season. At the same token, he’s embracing his role as a student because it gives him a chance to learn the ways of the league behind a couple of veteran guards.
“I’d rather have it this way, and I’m not just saying that,” Rozier emphatically stated. “I’m learning a lot. I‘m a guy that, I like to learn by seeing things. I can watch IT, watch Avery, and watch them do what they do night in, night out. And when my time comes, I can just try to do what I can do and add to this team.”
Thomas, who has acted as a mentor for Rozier, was proud of how the young guard handled himself during his spontaneous appearance.
“It’s hard to come in there not playing the whole game, not even knowing if you’re going to play, and then fourth quarter you’re in there at a crucial time,” said Thomas, who scored a team-high 30 points. “But he was ready. He took advantage of his opportunity, he made his shot, got a couple of good looks, and he just gave us energy.”
Added Bradley, another one of Rozier’s teachers, “Every opportunity he gets, he’s ready … I hope he gets another chance to go out there and perform, because he really helped our team out tonight.”
Though the Celtics couldn’t push past Houston in the end, Rozier’s efforts were certainly a bright spot Friday night. The high-pressure appearance provided him a boost of confidence, and it gave fans a peek of his well-rounded skill set.