Terry Rozier had been progressing nicely since being drafted by the Celtics with the 16th pick in the 2015 draft. After playing 39 games in his rookie season, Rozier appeared in 74 games in the 2016-17 season, averaging 17.1 minutes and 5.5 points.
In the last three months, however, his production has surged. Through January, Rozier appeared in every game and averaged just under 10 points per game. Beginning in February, Rozier’s offensive production started to increase, as he averaged 15.5 points and 27.6 minutes through 12 games in February.
Rozier’s scoring average for February through the end of the regular season in April was 42 percent higher than it was from October through January. His minutes per game rose 27.6 percent in the same stretch. In the playoffs, he’s been even better, scoring at a rate 68.1 percent higher than his entire regular-season average, and playing 38 percent more minutes than his regular-season average.
Rozier seized an opportunity after the Celtics started to reduce Kyrie Irving’s minutes in hopes of preserving him for the postseason. Irving sat out three consecutive games in February and averaged less than 30 minutes in a month for the first time all season. Rozier got the start in that stretch, and recorded the first triple-double of his career in a 103-73 laugher against the Knicks. He followed that up in the next game with a career-high 31 points on 11 of 18 shooting with seven rebounds in a 119-110 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Then, the Celtics’ plan to have Irving ready for the playoffs was derailed. Irving played just three games in March, and eventually had season-ending surgery in April. Irving’s last game was March 11, and then guard Marcus Smart also had surgery on his thumb that would force him to miss the rest of the season as well as most of the first round of the playoffs.
Rozier stepped up in the Celtics’ next game, scoring 21 points and playing a career-high 48 minutes in a double overtime loss to Washington on March 14. It would be a theme for the month of March, as Rozier set a career-high with 33 points in a 104-93 win at Sacramento.
“My confidence level is sky high,’’ Rozier said after the game. “Obviously I put a lot of work in for myself, but a lot of credit goes to my teammates and coaches, because they believe in me every game and they make it happen, from getting me open, drawing up plays and stuff like that. So my job is easy. All I’ve got to do is try to make the shot.’’
Rozier finished the month of March having averaged 17.2 points over 13 games. In the 10 games Irving did not play, he averaged 18.2 points in 35 minutes per game.
In April, with the playoffs on the horizon, Rozier sat out two of the six games and saw his playing time reduced. The strategy appeared to pay off once the postseason began. In the thrilling first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks that went the distance, Rozier averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 assists in 35.9 minutes as the Celtics prevailed in seven games. He saved his best for last, scoring 26 points while dishing out 9 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds in the 112-96 win in Game 7, and made sure that everybody, including Milwaukee guard Eric Bledsoe, knew his name.
When it became clear that Irving would not be returning this season, Celtics coach Brad Stevens met with Rozier before the playoffs.
“He had his confidence in me and said I was just as good as anybody,’’ Rozier said. “So that’s what I had in the back of my mind anyway, my confidence is sky high. So I wasn’t really scared of the moment. I was ready to get it started.’’
With the Eastern Conference semifinals underway, Rozier is still seizing the moment, scoring 29 points to go with 8 rebounds and 6 assists in the Celtics’ 117-101 win in Game 1 over the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I’m just enjoying it man,’’ Rozier said during the Milwaukee series. “A lot of people thought it was going to be pressure. I said from the beginning it was going to be no pressure, I just looked at it as an opportunity from the beginning. I was just going to go out there and have fun.’’