Eric Bledsoe tried to act like he couldn’t pick Terry Rozier out of a lineup, even if it was the Celtics’ starting lineup.
Bledsoe definitely knows who Rozier is now. He’s the guy who eliminated Bledsoe’s Milwaukee Bucks from the playoffs. Bledsoe can positively identify Rozier, but he never did figure out how to defend him.
Rozier got the last word, the last laugh, and the last win in his first-round playoff feud between headstrong and hard-charging point guards. The man tasked with replacing the injured Kyrie Irving at point guard for Boston delivered a Kyrie-worthy performance in Game 7, propelling the Celtics to with a 112-96 victory on Saturday in Game 7 at TD Garden.
Scary Terry put the Celtics safely into the second round, pouring in a playoff-career-high 26 points to tie Al Horford for the team high, while also adding nine assists and six rebounds. He shot a tidy 10 of 16 from the field and pumped in 17 points in the second half. Rozier finished the series averaging 17.6 points, 6.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds. Now, it’s on to the Eastern Conference semifinals and a matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Celtics always knew who Rozier was and what he was capable of playing in place of the face of the franchise.
“I told him all series he is really important to us,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “He has been great all year, but certainly since he has been in this starting role he has been excellent. We are going to need him to continue to be.”
The enmity between Rozier and Bledsoe was at the center of this series. Rozier unwittingly started it, and he made sure he finished it, despite Bledsoe enjoying a gutsy game of his own with 23 points. The tiff started after the Celtics’ Game 1 overtime win in which Rozier had 23 points. He misspoke and referred to Bledsoe as “Drew,” as in Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots’ franchise quarterback before a fellow by the name of Tom Brady usurped him.
It was an honest mistake, but Bledsoe turned it into a significant slight. He responded with indignance and an expletive after Rozier outplayed him in Game 2. When asked about Rozier, he profanely proclaimed he didn’t know who that was. Mr. Bledsoe, it’s the third-year guard who outplayed you this entire series when (without the services of Irving) the point guard arrow should have been pointing in Milwaukee’s direction.
Bledsoe tried to act tough with Rozier in Game 5, trading shoulder blocks with him and earning a flagrant foul. But Rozier, learning his lesson from last season when Brandon Jennings, then of the Washington Wizards, got under his skin, shook it off. Bledsoe couldn’t intimidate him, psyche him out, or slow him down.
When the series ended, the combatants buried their beef. It was playoff basketball, not personal, even if it felt like it.
“You got two guys that want to win, two chippy guys, two short point guards you know just out there having fun,” said Rozier. “If it takes for us to go back and forth and jaw back and forth or battle, push each other, it’s whatever. That’s just part of the game, but at the end of the day, you know we talked after the game.”
Bledsoe confirmed that he and Rozier walked away from the series without hard feelings.
“I mean, it’s the playoffs. What do you expect, us to be out there shaking hands and giving out hugs the whole time?” said Bledsoe. “That [stuff] ain’t going to happen. He had a hell of a series, man, I got to take my hat off to him.”
Bledsoe’s belligerence turned him into public enemy No. 1 for the Parishioners of the Parquet, who booed him lustily and serenaded him with derisive chants in Game 7. To his credit, Bledsoe appeared to be energized by the contempt. One of the loudest roars from the crowd came at Bledsoe’s expense with 6:16 left in the game.
The Celtics trolled Bledsoe by showing a pump-up video on the big screen from the actual Drew Bledsoe. The crowd ate it up like Rozier did the Bucks’ defense in Game 7.
“Man, that was special,” said Rozier. “I don’t know who thought of that, but, man, that was nice, for real. I liked that.”
He also liked playing playoff games at TD Garden, where in the four games he averaged 22 points per game and shot 50 percent from the field.
After shooting a series-low 37 percent in a potential close-out game in Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics rediscovered their shot-making ability at the most opportune time. The same goes for Rozier. He made more than half of the Celtics’ nine 3-pointers, draining 5 of 8 from beyond the arc, 4 of 6 in the fourth quarter.
Rozier, 24, admitted that he was kicking himself after he went without a basket in the second half of Game 6 in Milwaukee on Thursday, negating a 14-point first half. He was sullen and solemn when he arrived back in Boston. He didn’t want to talk to friends for family. He was champing at the bit for another shot.
“[Shoot], if we weren’t focused we were going home. I definitely felt that,” Rozier said. “I think I took it to heart the most. I know when I got home I didn’t want to deal with nobody. I was angry after Game 6. I felt like I could have done a lot of great things to put us in position to try to end it there.”
Instead, he put the Celtics in position to end it in Game 7.
Rozier never lacks for confidence. It’s both his best trait and his biggest weakness as a basketball player. You can’t deter him from shooting. The Celtics needed that shooting, particularly in the second half when they lost yet another key player. Jaylen Brown hurt his hamstring in the second quarter, and didn’t play in the second half. Rozier more than made up for his absence.
You knew this was Rozier’s night when he hit a fadeaway jumper as he was falling to the floor in the second quarter. Confidence is never an issue for Rozier. He has a shooter’s mentality, but when he sees the ball go through the basket his belief swells to the size of a hot-air balloon.
The Celtics led, 50-42, at the half, but it felt like it should have been a bigger margin for Boston.
Boston’s lead could have bulged more, but the Celtics couldn’t find the range from beyond the arc. The Green were just 1 of 12 from three. The lone make was a Rozier corner 3-pointer with 3:58 left in the half that made it 46-34.
The Celtics went into the fourth quarter up, 81-67. Rozier closed it out with 12 fourth-quarter points. He hit back-to-back threes that put the Celtics up, 101-82, with 5:19 to go, and the first got the old Red Auerbach bounce on the friendly Garden rim.
It was that kind of night for Rozier, one where he moved past his feud with Bledsoe and the Bucks with a statement game.