The Jet experienced great turbulence in the season’s first two months, unable to get comfortable in his herky-jerky role, his shot clanging off the rim and his defense an afterthought.
The Celtics signed Jason Terry to a three-year contract to be a reliable scorer off the bench, to hit 3-pointers off screens, and to help add professionalism to the locker room. Basically, team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge chose Terry over re-signing Ray Allen, hoping that the two-year age difference and Terry’s ability to score off the dribble would be an upgrade.
It’s been a struggle, but Terry has recovered over the past two months to make it even.
He scored 19 points off the bench Friday, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime to lead the Celtics to a 107-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks. It was the Celtics’ 14th win in 18 games since Rajon Rondo’s season-ending knee injury.
Terry appeared lost in January, averaging just 6.9 points, 41.2 percent shooting and just 30.6 percent from the 3-point line. The Celtics feared they acquired a player who was going through an expeditious aging process, perhaps too old and a step slow to create his shot, maybe his 35-year-old legs were no longer providing the lift of his prime days.
As of now those notions have been dispelled. Count Terry as yet another player flourishing in Rondo’s absence, the catalyst of the Celtics’ increased ball movement with an increased desire to defend and set picks to spring open teammates.
On the game’s decisive play, Paul Pierce drove toward the basket, nearly toeing the baseline before whipping the ball to Terry, who caught the ball near his feet and then rose for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 35 seconds left for a 105-102 lead.
His customary Jet pose followed, realizing the enormity of the moment. Terry is finally gaining comfort in Boston, finally warming to his bench role that allows him to play pivotal minutes and be involved in the offense.
“My role hasn’t changed at all [from Dallas],’’ he said. “I was brought here to make big shots, to make big plays, and be a spark off the bench, and I’m settling into that role.
“But for us it’s old hat. We live and die with our defense and offensively we spread it around. On any given night, we have guys who are dangerous and can kill you, so that’s just how we’ve been playing.”
Perhaps more impressive than his 3-point prowess was his defense on Atlanta sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who hit eight 3-pointers in the second half and two overtimes as the Hawks overcame a 27-point second-quarter deficit and beat the Celtics, 123-111, on Jan. 25, which happened to be the night Rondo blew out his knee.
On Friday, Korver finished with 3 points on 1-for-5 shooting in 38 minutes as he was blanketed by the energetic Terry.
“Listen, Jason had 19 points, but I thought the thing he did better than anything was he guarded Korver,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And he was like glue. He just stayed on him, took away his shots.’’
Terry canned the game’s clinching free throws when he pump-faked on a 20-footer and got Korver to crash into him flying through the air. It was a semblance of revenge for the Celtics, who were embittered by their last meeting with Atlanta.
“I took the challenge very personally,” Terry said of guarding Korver. “The last time he was the difference in that game. The guy scores 20-something points in a half and we take that very personally.’’
Terry is turning into that impact offseason acquisition the Celtics envisioned, but the process was methodical. He switched between the starting lineup and the bench. Rivers didn’t call nearly enough plays for him in the early going and he was rather timid in seizing his role on a veteran team.
Now he has their full trust.
“Yeah, Jason really stepped up,” Pierce said. “We count on him late in games, even if he doesn’t get the shot, he’s such a threat late in games that you can’t come off of him. He’s hit so many big shots throughout his career, he understands the moment and that’s why he’s here.”
And he understands the Celtics’ way of thinking.
“I think it’s about the ball movement, guys are passing up a good shot to get a great one,” Terry said. “The shot Jeff Green hit in the corner was all predicated on Paul Pierce passing up a good shot at the basket to get him a wide-open look. Guys are recognizing where they can shoot from. Jeff’s good in the corner, I’m good from anywhere, and Paul anywhere across halfcourt.”