By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics once held a seemingly commanding 2-0 lead over the Bucks, thanks in large part to Terry Rozier living up to his “Scary Terry” nickname.
The series is now tied as it shifts back to Boston for Tuesday night’s Game 5, thanks in large part to Rozier doing an invisible man impersonation in Milwaukee. The Jekyll-and-Hyde act is what makes him one of the most important players as the series has now turned into a best-of-three.
Rozier was part of a balanced scoring attack in Game 1 and was a solid complement to Jaylen Brown’s career-game in Game 2. He scored 23 points in each of those Boston wins, confidently hitting 47 percent of his shots. No shot was bigger than his potential game-winning three at the end of regulation of the series opener, which would have been the series highlight had it not been for Khris Middelton’s deep connection at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. With five extra minutes of basketball, Rozier scored another five points to lead the Celtics to a victory.
Rozier succeeded in the starting lineup during the regular season and he continued to thrive in the role when the playoffs arrived, providing Boston with a sense of confidence even without Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart. The third-year guard had his jumper going and was attacking the basket with ease in the first two games. He wasn’t backing down from any challenge or fight, and even took the high road when he and Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe engaged in a small war of words. Life was great for the Celtics and Terry Rozier.
But then there was a startling change in Rozier once the series shifted to Milwaukee, as he struggled in pretty much every facet of his game in Boston’s two losses. His shot was out of rhythm, hitting just 5-for-19 of his attempts from the floor and an abysmal 20 percent (3-for-15) from three-point range. The once trusty quarterback of the offense, who had a Tom Brady-like zero turnovers in the two games in Boston, looked more like Drew (Not Eric) Bledsoe in Milwaukee with six turnovers, five of which came in Boston’s blowout loss in Game 3. That confidence was gone, as Rozier was befuddled at the defense that Bledsoe and Matthew Dellavedova threw at him.
Now the series returns to the TD Garden on Tuesday night, and the Celtics are hoping Rozier returns to being that terrifying force that gave the Bucks nightmares. Rozier himself admits that he needs to reignite the fire that fueled those fearless efforts in Games 1 and 2.
“I can’t worry about field goal percentage or other stuff. I need to put my teammates in the best position to win,” Rozier said after Tuesday’s morning shootaround. “I don’t think I’ve played with that fire I played with the first two games. They’ve been bothering me a bit, but one thing I told myself was to go in with a clear mind, not worry about what happened in the first four games.
“I’m going to come back out with that fire, put pressure on the defense whether it’s creating for others or myself. That will help put us over the top and into the next round,” he said confidently.
Rozier admitted that he can’t just burn the film from the last two games, but will hopefully learn from his erratic ways during those two defeats. If his jumper isn’t going early, he should attack the basket more. The return of Smart (which Rozier believes will happen in Game 5) will help on the defensive end, but he needs to get back to making life miserable for Bledsoe, who shot just 9-for-25 in those two first games. Bledsoe took full advantage of Rozier’s struggles in Milwaukee, going 11-for-22 for 26 points in the Bucks’ two wins.
The Celtics know they have at least two more games this series, and can’t afford any more off nights from Rozier. Even if they continue to get production from Brown and fellow youngster Jayson Tatum, even if Al Horford continues to be the glue that holds it all together, and even if Smart returns to provide a gigantic defensive boost, Rozier needs to get back to playing with that fire we saw in his first two playoffs games in the spotlight. He needs to be the one who knocks, not the one who fears the deer.
If Rozier continues to be off his game, the Celtics will be heading to that early playoff grave that many predicted when Irving was lost for the season. If the Celtic want to hold off the reaper for another few weeks, they’re going to need Rozier to get back to his truly terrifying self.