BOSTON — When Terry Rozier‘s night was complete Friday, the third-year guard having followed up Wednesday’s triple-double in his first career start by becoming the first Boston Celtics player not named Kyrie Irving to put up 30-plus points in a game this season, fans at TD Garden serenaded Rozier with a standing ovation.
With Irving sidelined by a quad bruise, Rozier has caught the attention of Boston fans with two absurd and rather unexpected performances in spot starts. On Friday night, Rozier put up a career-high 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting, making six of the eight 3-pointers, over 36 minutes as shorthanded Boston ran away with a 119-110 triumph over the visiting Atlanta Hawks.
The name Wally Pipp has been referenced repeatedly this week. Some have gone so far as to joke about how it’s not unprecedented in these parts for an unheralded No. 12 to unseat the franchise player wearing No. 11 following a freak injury (New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, before his eight Super Bowl appearances, having done just that to Drew Bledsoe).
Irving can rest easy. Rozier is happy to cede his starting gig whenever Irving is healthy enough to return.
While Rozier has admitted he has a desire to be an NBA starter and believes he has showcased what he’s capable of this week, he has stressed that Irving’s job is safe. In fact, it was Irving who greeted Rozier outside the locker room after Wednesday’s win, engulfing him in a bear hug before pushing him into a locker room that further celebrated Rozier’s big night.
“Kyrie’s probably one of my biggest supporters outside of my family through this little process,” Rozier said. “So I know he’s happy for me. And when he comes back he’s going to pick it up.”
Rozier has been a key rotation player for the Celtics this season, but his role was elevated by a confluence of injuries. First, backup guard Marcus Smart punched a glass picture frame while the Celtics were on the road last week in Los Angeles, and then Irving suffered the quad bruise in Denver on Monday night. What’s more, Shane Larkin has missed the past three games because of knee soreness, leaving the Celtics dangerously thin on point guards.
So Rozier went from the No. 3 ball handler on the depth chart to about the only guard that coach Brad Stevens could trust to consistently run the offense the past two games.
On Wednesday night, Rozier hit a barrage of early shots, and that seemed to fuel him as he posted Boston’s first triple-double of the season with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in a win over the New York Knicks.
Starting in the place of Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier shines, tallying his first-career triple-double with 17 points, 11 boards and 10 assists in a Celtics win.
When asked before Friday’s game if Rozier would be back in the starting five, Stevens playfully quipped, “I think that would be a good idea. Yeah, we’ll do that. He might be in every five. He might be all 48 minutes and every five.”
Stevens kept Rozier’s minutes at a manageable level Friday, but Rozier’s offense was key in helping Boston hang around early and then accelerate away in the second half.
On a night when Boston had only 10 available players, six of whom were rookies, both Rozier and rookie Jayson Tatum (27 points) finished with career highs in scoring. Jaylen Brown had 19 points as a trio of Boston’s top picks in the past three drafts combined for 77 points on 29-of-51 shooting overall. Somewhere Danny Ainge is dancing all over the notion that he’s not nearly as good of a drafter as he is a trader.
Rozier has often drawn praise from Celtics veterans dating to last season when Al Horford first arrived in Boston. But even Horford didn’t know just what Rozier was capable of in elevated minutes.
“He’s come a long way,” Horford said. “I was always just impressed with his ability. A lot of the time, you don’t know if that’s gonna translate. For him, the more that we’ve played him — it doesn’t matter what position we put him in — he just keeps learning and growing and he’s playing the right way. He’s playing aggressive.
“What I like most about him is that he commits on the defensive end, rebounds great. I’ve just been happy to see his progress. He’s gonna continue to get better.”
Over his past five games since Smart was injured, Rozier is averaging 16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.6 steals over 29.4 minutes per game. The Celtics own an offensive rating of 115.3 when Rozier is on the court and a net rating of plus-21.3 overall in that span.
Narrow to the past two games that he has started and the base stat line is even more absurd: 24 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals while shooting 53.1 percent from the field and 64.3 percent beyond the arc.
“I think he’s playing a lot of minutes and, I don’t know what his per-36 or per-48 numbers are, but he doesn’t always play 36 and 38 minutes in a game like he is now,” Stevens said of Rozier’s stat explosion. “But he’s a really good player and he’s gotten better. He’s playing very confidently.”
As the Celtics look to beef up their bench scoring with the impending addition of center Greg Monroe, who should formally sign with the team Saturday after he clears waivers, Boston will hope that Rozier can bring some of his recent scoring explosion to the second unit whenever he shifts back there.
Rozier is savoring his time as a starter but is sure to praise those around him.
“It’s just been a blessing. It’s been great,” he said. “All the praise goes to my coaches and my teammates for allowing me to get open and … just making it easy for me. Everybody’s playing hard out there. All the credit goes to them.”