It’s a good thing that the Celtics are getting used to playing without Kyrie Irving. Not that the Celtics plan on losing him any time soon, but the remaining players have to respond and flourish without their security blanket on the floor.
Like when he is on the bench during games. The Celtics have to find a way to produce offense with players who have shown capable of carrying the scoring load in the past.
They put up 126 points in their win Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets and improved to 6-2 without Irving, and are a plus-64 in point differential in the six games without him.
The biggest difference in the Irving-less Celtics is the obvious comfort level of Terry Rozier, who just seems to relax more when he starts.
In eight games as a starter in place of Irving, Rozier is averaging 15 points on 47.1 percent shooting, 41.6 percent from the 3-point line, along with 6.1 assists and 5.6 rebounds. His offensive rating (points per 100 possessions with him on the floor) is 126 as a starter. It’s 99 as a reserve.
Rozier isn’t going to start as long as Irving is in Boston, but it’s not a bad thing for his long-term future that he can flourish as a starter. Now the key is Rozier translating that success to when he comes off the bench and leads the offense.
He still hasn’t made that transition successfully and that has to happen for the Celtics to be fully prepared for a long playoff run.
“Yeah, I mean, I just think it’s — you know exactly what you’re getting,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Rozier as a starter. “And I thought that he had played well off the bench in a few games prior to that, and then you know, even though he didn’t get as many opportunities as far as shooting the ball, I think his — his spark over the last three or four weeks has been really, really impactful.”
Rozier knows his future is likely elsewhere unless something unforeseen happens with Irving’s future. In October, Irving committed to re-signing with the Celtics when he opts out of his contract this summer, and despite grumbling that he would reconsider that stance, the Celtics privately believe he’s fully invested in the organization’s future and will sign long term.
Rozier has been through enough in his short time in Boston and throughout his life to know the NBA is a business and if he wants to start, it’s going to happen with another team. He hasn’t been pleased with his playing time at certain points but it seems every Celtic has spent January getting over their personal issues for the sake of the team.
“It’s consistency coming from everybody buying into the system and knowing their roles and staying aggressive,” forward Marcus Morris said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things. Guys are finally getting comfortable in their role and just taking it head on. That was our biggest obstacle is just getting over yourself and putting it out there for the team and whatever happens, happens, and not dwelling on the shots you get, but just competing at a different level.”
Rozier considers Irving a mentor. While they are just two years apart, Irving is an NBA and Olympic champion and multi-time All-Star, so Rozier considers him a role model. There is no issue between the two. Rozier realizes he is going to eventually have to play well in Irving’s presence.
“When we play with [Irving] it’s more like a show, sit back and watch him go crazy,” Rozier said. “And without him, obviously, we don’t know who the scoring is going to really come from. So somebody’s got to step up and we’ve got to find our way. But with or without him, we’re still trying to do good things.
“He’s arguably one of the best offensive players in this game today. However y’all want to put it. If y’all was out there, you’d do the same thing [and watch him].”
Irving came out and joined his teammates after halftime and pulled Rozier aside for some pointers during the Celtics’ 40-11 run that carried into the fourth quarter. And Rozier collected his first double-double (17 points, 10 assists) of the season and the third of his career.
“Just point guard advice,” Rozier said. “But he’s always been that way, whether it’s during the game, at practice, text messaging.”
The two don’t feel threatened by each other. And Irving fully realizes Rozier’s ascension is beneficial for the Celtics’ title hopes. So they not only continue to coexist but bond, and that has been an unexpected turn for the better in their relationship as starter and backup.
“He’s always there, a guy with knowledge that can help me see the game more,” Rozier said of Irving. “That’s the most important thing, just see the game as a young player. It’s very valuable. Obviously, I watched him before we teamed up together, a lot. I respect his game and to have him in my corner is special.”