BOSTON — Terry Rozier knows better than anybody how quickly a player can be thrust from the background into the limelight in the NBA playoffs.
A year ago, Rozier was a rookie point guard who had barely played for the Celtics in the regular season. But a hamstring injury to Avery Bradley late in Game One of the first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, put Rozier in a key rotation role.
While Rozier played a lot more in his second year than his rookie season, his spot in the rotation has been in flux for most of the campaign. Due to an Achilles strain that kept Bradley out of 23 of 24 games in January and February, Rozier was on the floor at some point in most of the games. But with the Celtics moving back to full health of late, his minutes have more sporadic, and often more targeted based on a combination Celtics coach Brad Stevens wants to use to test in a particular situation.
“He’s preparing to see what group is producing the most and things like that,” Rozier allowed. “In my mind, I am just trying to stay ready so when I get out there I can play to the best of my ability.”
Stevens indicated before the regular-season finale that may continue in the playoffs as the starters play increased minutes, Marcus Smart stays in his extended role as sixth man, and there is a core bench rotation with variations — such as spot duty for Gerald Green, Tyler Zeller or Rozier — based on the game situation or matchups.
“That’s exactly what we’d be looking at,” Stevens confirmed. “But everybody’s got to be ready to go because things change, injuries happen. As we saw last year, matchups that you didn’t anticipate become matchups that become important that you may need to throw somebody else at.”
One matchup that Stevens has liked late in the third quarter and early in the fourth involves having Rozier and Smart on the floor at the same time. While neither guard has been a knockdown shooter this season, their ability to both handle the ball and break down the defense has intrigued the coach as he’s looked for them to push the ball into the paint and create for others.
“It just happened naturally,” Rozier said. “Marcus loves to compete. We are both going to bring it at the defensive end and do what we can. Coach is aware of that. So I think that’s one of his combinations that he likes to put together.”
In his second run through the playoffs last year, Stevens showed more of a willingness to make adjustments on the fly. His move to go with Rozier for Bradley was forced by injury, but he also turned to Jonas Jerebko for more scoring in the starting lineup in Game Three, then went to Zeller for more bulk in a late bid to extend the series.
“Some of that stuff will be dependent on who you are playing,” Stevens said, “how you are playing, adjustments both teams make throughout the series. I feel good about us being able to go to a number of different people within those series.”
While the quest in recent weeks has been to gain a rhythm with the starting rotation and win as many games as possible, Stevens has also looked to work different units together in hopes of finding something he can use at a decisive moment of a playoff series.
“We’ve made good strides with certain groups on the floor,” Stevens said. “I feel good about knowing our guys, and how they complement each other, and what each guy brings to the table — the value that they can add to help us win as we move forward.
“You feel you have a pretty comprehensive view of all that as you go into the last game and next week.”
No time for rest now
As most of the league rested players on Wednesday with either an eye toward the playoffs – or summer vacation – Stevens stayed true to his word to play out the slate with his full healthy group.
“Everyone’s available,” he declared before the contest. “We’re trying to win a game.”