Raise your hand if you saw this coming.
Put your arm down. You’re a liar.
You had no idea Terry Rozier would be dominating like this for the Boston Celtics in 2018, let alone in the 2018 NBA Playoffs. Unless your name is Danny Ainge, of course.
Ainge drafted Rozier out of Louisville, with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. It was Ainge’s first of two first-round selections that year. His other pick in the first round was R.J. Hunter at No. 28 overall. We don’t have to talk about that one.
Anyways, here we are in Rozier’s third season, and he’s the top dog on a Celtics team that’s been decimated with injuries. That’s right, I said “top dog.”
Having lost Kyrie Irving late in the season to multiple knee procedures, I saw a talented — but young — Celtics squad that thrived off the presence of a veteran like Marcus Morris. He had experience, he could shoot, he was physical, and he was a no-nonsense type of guy. Before Marcus Smart returned in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, these C’s needed someone like Morris more than anyone else who was healthy, in my opinion.
The Celtics won that first-round series in seven games. And here they are now, up 1-0 on the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, with the winner taking on the winner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 2 is Thursday night at the Garden.
Rozier is the starting point guard. He’s averaging 36 minutes a game in these first eight playoff games. And he finished the Game 1 win over Philly with a playoff career-high 29 points while shooting 7-for-9 from behind the three-point line.
This is Rozier’s team now. And the 24-year-old point guard has embraced it.
Don’t act like that’s some easy accomplishment, either. Since entering the league in 2015, Rozier has played behind two All-Star point guards in Isaiah Thomas and, most recently, Irving.
As Thomas’ backup in last year’s playoffs, Rozier averaged just 16 minutes per game and 5.6 points per game as the Celtics marched to the East Finals. For most of this season, Rozier found himself backing up Irving. And Irving was expected to get the Celtics to the East Finals at the very least, if not the NBA Finals.
So, needless to say, Rozier has some big shoes to fill. But he’s not just filling them. He’s taking them off and smashing his opponents over the head with them and then knocking down a three while they’re stunned.
And I can honestly tell you that I did not expect to see this.
When Rozier was drafted at No. 16 overall, it was a complete surprise to me. I can remember filling in on local sports radio the night of that Draft, saying that the Celtics should have traded up — with Philadelphia — for No. 3 overall so that they could take Jahlil Okafor, after the Los Angeles Lakers decided to draft D’Angelo Russell at No. 2.
I remember being confused about the Rozier pick, as in, “Wait a minute, who did the Celtics just take?” And, “They’re going to make both first-round picks instead of trading up?”
Perhaps my confusion was more about Ainge not moving up the draft board with a trade. But regardless, there was confusion with the pick. And if you had told me that night that Rozier would be this dominant while leading the Celtics as the starting point guard in his third season, just three wins away from a very realistic trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, I would have laughed in your face.
I’m glad Rozier and Ainge are the ones laughing now though. I’m glad that Ainge was the one who saw this coming.
Because I certainly did not.
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” at dannypicard.com. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.