Why Terry Rozier Was the Unsung Hero of Game 2

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving declared Wednesday night that Terry Rozier has been “throwing himself into the game” during the first two contests of Boston’s opening-round series against Indiana. In reality, Rozier is actually throwing himself into the Pacers’ air space.

Brad Stevens has been calling on Rozier to act as Boston’s pit-bull during this first-round playoff series. He wants Rozier, through defensive pressure, to hound Indiana’s guards. He wants Rozier to drain Indiana’s shot clock.

He wants Rozier to make the Pacers’ lives as uncomfortable and as miserable as possible.

Rozier did exactly that Wednesday night while playing an instrumental role in Boston’s 12-point, fourth-quarter comeback win during Game 2. Rozier started the fourth quarter with the Celtics trailing by 12. He exited eight minutes and seven seconds later, with the Celtics leading by three, thanks in large part to his defensive pressure.

“That’s one of the advantages of playing a little bit lesser minutes, is you’ve got more energy to do stuff like that,” Stevens said after the game of Rozier’s defense. “And when we’re at our best, he does a good job of that. And he was huge in that comeback, way more than the stats.”

Rozier finished the game with a stat line that consisted of six rebounds, six assists and four points. More importantly, Boston outscored Indiana by 19 points during his 20-plus minutes of playing time.

“He’s throwing himself into the game,” Irving said of Rozier, while giving his teammate public credit as he himself was being lauded for his 37-point scoring outburst. “He’s really, really locked in to the tendency of the other point guard or whoever he’s guarding. He’s always communicating. He’s always having that high energy, whether it’s for three minutes or whether it’s for eight minutes.”

Wednesday night, it was for eight minutes during the fourth quarter, although Rozier appeared to think his time was up much earlier.

Rozier started the fourth quarter while Irving rested on the bench. Stevens called upon Irving to check back into the game with 7:35 remaining on the clock.

As Irving stepped onto the floor, Rozier appeared to begin walking toward Boson’s bench with the assumption that Irving was replacing him. Irving, however, waved to him to stay on the floor; Irving instead replaced Gordon Hayward.

That move proved to be vital to the continued success of Boston’s comeback bid. He continued to provide high-pressure defense, and even crashed in for needed help defense that forced a critical miss by Wesley Matthews.

Rozier finished the contest with the game's best defensive rating, with a mark of 62.2. That's the best defensive rating any player has put forth during the postseason.

Following the game, Rozier made it sound as if he enjoyed every second of his pressure-packed defensive night. He enjoyed it because it helped his team win, and because it’s something he’s been practicing for quite some time.

“Anything I’m being handed, I’ll just be ready for,” he told Celtics.com of his defensive assignment. “I was just trying to help this team, trying to help this team as much as possible.

“I’ve been picking up full-court all my life, from high school, AAU, college playing for Rick (Pitino), so it’s nothing new to me. Obviously I just try to take them out of their rhythm and push everything out and make it tough on them. I feel like if I can do that, you already look up and there’s like 10 seconds on the shot clock and they’ve got to rush.”

Boston certainly wasn’t rushing at the other end of the court, thanks to Rozier’s presence. His ball handling ability allowed Irving to play off the ball and dominate by scoring eight straight points, including three that were assisted by Rozier, that brought the crowd to its feet. Irving certainly appreciated having No. 12 alongside him on the court during that stretch of play.

“I’m glad he stayed out there and Brad made that decision,” Irving said of Rozier remaining in the game at the 7:35 mark. “It takes pressure off of me having to bring the ball up and be the ball handler every single play down. And that’s a trust that we’ve built over time and over the season.”

Rozier finally checked out with 3:53 remaining, after he had thrown himself into Indiana’s air space for eight straight minutes of basketball. Boston had turned a 12-point deficit into a three-point lead, and the Celtics went on to win by eight to take a 2-0 series lead.

Others, such as Irving and Jayson Tatum, will receive all of the glitz and the glamour in the public after the win. Rozier, meanwhile, received praise inside of Boston’s locker room for his defensive tenacity, and for his overall impact.

Stevens needed a pit-bull for this series. He’s got one in Rozier.

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