Rooks Hunter, Rozier Thrust into Thick of Playoffs

BOSTON – The Celtics drafted Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter in June to be a part of their future. Suddenly, the team is relying on them to be major pieces of their present.

A barrage of injuries has pushed Rozier and Hunter into the thick of Boston’s rotation during its first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. Rozier played 24 minutes during Game 2, logging 10 points and four rebounds. Hunter, meanwhile, played nearly 15 minutes and finished with only a blocked shot.

Regardless of their effectiveness during Game 2, Brad Stevens says that Rozier and Hunter will continue to be key pieces of Boston’s playoff rotation.

“Those guys played yesterday,” he said Wednesday afternoon, “and I expect them to both play moving forward.”

There were certainly positives to take from their performances during Game 2. Boston played some of its best basketball of the night while the rookies were on the court; Boston outscored Atlanta by five points while Hunter was on the floor, and it was outscored by only three points while Rozier was on the floor. Those numbers marked two of the team’s top four plus/minus ratings among Celtics who logged at least 14 minutes of playing time.

“I thought they brought some positives to the table,” said Stevens. “I thought Terry (helped us) obviously with his penetration and then made a couple of shots. And then R.J. with his passing. Both got us decent looks when they were in the game.”

There were also moments from which these two players can learn.

One moment in particular stands out in regard to Hunter. Midway through the second quarter, when Boston had cut a 21-point deficit down to 10, Hunter was assigned to defend sharpshooter Kyle Korver. But as Kent Bazemore drove to the basket against his defender, Amir Johnson, Hunter got caught ball-watching as Korver drifted from the right corner to the right wing, where he eventually caught a dish from Bazemore.

Bang – 3-pointer.

Stevens called for an immediate timeout, and Hunter slowly made his way to the huddle with his hands on his head in disbelief that he allowed Korver to roam free.

“I think that obviously him being upset about losing [Korver] tells you that he knows, and there’s not much need for a conversation,” Stevens said of that moment. “I think the biggest thing is that the next time you get an opportunity, you’re even more locked to him, and he was later in the game.”

Lesson learned. Hunter now knows that he must always keep track of Korver, and that the slightest of mental lapses – if even for only a split-second – can cost you during the NBA Playoffs.

Another lesson that both of these rookies will learn from watching film of Game 2 is that they aren’t going to get calls in the paint. Both Rozier and Hunter were caught double-pumping in the paint on drives, hoping to garner whistles rather than going up strong for a shot or dishing a pass before the defense converged. They should now know full well that the paint will be cluttered, and that whistles are few and far between during a physical playoff series.

There were ups and downs during Game 2, both for the Celtics and for their rookie guards. The hope is that Tuesday’s learning experience will better prepare them all for Friday’s Game 3, during which Rozier and Hunter are expected to play substantial roles.

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