The playoffs have an interesting way of interjecting those two words into the discussion of certain players.
James Harden is one of the most amazing offensive players of our generation.
“Yeah, but it looked like he quit on his team in an elimination game last year. What good is all that offense if you can’t count on it when it matters?”
Robert Horry was an okay player who had a nice but largely unspectacular career.
“Yeah, but he hit a ton of clutch shots in the playoffs and he’s got seven rings.”
The running NBA joke about 15 months ago was some version of mentioning a big-name star in a trade rumor and remarking that Danny Ainge would give up anyone but Terry Rozier for him.
Rozier has a chance to dictate the finish to that sentence starting tomorrow. He’s stepped up admirably after the loss of Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart. He’s made some fantastic plays this season to seal, and steal, wins for the Celtics. He nearly doubled his combined scoring totals from his first two seasons and many of the advanced statistics paint a picture of a player who might be in the discussion for Most Improved Player if Victor Oladipo didn’t exist.
Now, though, Rozier faces a much different challenge.
Never before has Rozier been part of the opponent’s game plan. No coaches have gone into a playoff series figuring out how to get Rozier out of his rhythm or get the ball out of his hands.
The Bucks, though, have days to figure out how to exploit the Celtics’ weaknesses. They will almost assuredly try to take the Celtics most versatile offensive player and catalyst on most plays, Al Horford, out of the offense as much as possible. They will face guard him and prevent him from flexing his passing or shooting.
They will also most likely aggressively blitz Rozier on pick-and-rolls. Distribution is the weakest part of Rozier’s game, and the Bucks will surely amp up the pressure to force Rozier into rushed decisions.
Milwaukee wants to get out and run in transition off steals. They’re hoping Rozier will be complicit. That’s where he needs to keep his head.
“I gotta lead these guys. That’s understandable,” he said. “I have to control the game, and basically just fill in for what the starting point guard’s supposed to do, fill in Kyrie’s shoes as much as I can. Sometimes it might come down to taking tough shots and making tough shots and stuff like that, but do what I can to give this team a boost and put us in a position to win.”
It’s not going to go perfectly for him because it rarely goes perfectly for anyone on the floor. In the past, prior mistakes seemed to weigh on Rozier’s mind and affect future plays. This season he’s done a very good job of not letting that happen as much.
On top of the support he’ll have on the floor to get past those mistakes, he’ll also be relying on Kyrie Irving
“I just basically told him, ‘Just be looking at your phone,'” Rozier said, smiling. “‘I’m gonna reach out to you.’ He’s hands on, he’s easy to deal with, he’s easy to get pointers from, because he makes you feel comfortable. He doesn’t tell you nothing too crazy. As long as I know that I can reach out to him, I will.”
Rozier has already learned plenty of lessons this season, and they’ve all led to this moment.
Tomorrow, Rozier will take the floor and face a defense built, in part, to turn his mistakes into their success. He will stand on the parquet in the place of an All Star. He will dribble in front of more than 18 thousand people who are hoping for a few more weeks of magic out of the feisty remnants of a once-hopeful contender.
This is his moment.
In a few weeks we’ll finish this thought based on whatever he does over that time.
Terry Rozier has had a nice third season with Boston.