Boston Celtics: Can Terry Rozier carry a playoff series?

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 23: Terry Rozier
PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 23: Terry Rozier /

Terry Rozier has kept the Boston Celtics afloat since taking over as the starting point guard. Is he ready to carry a playoff series?

The Boston Celtics have extinguished some of the league’s top talent in what has to be one of the unluckiest injury scenarios in the entire NBA. The month of March has gotten pretty mixed reviews from Celtics fans, as there have been about as many injuries as wins.

With the playoffs on the horizon, and the Celtics neatly tucked into the second seed (for now), there’s no promise that the team will survive the first round without some of its core players, which include (but are not limited to) Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart. Terry Rozier will continue to run the offense for the foreseeable future. Can he replicate his regular season success in a playoff series?

Rozier has taken on more than his fair share of scoring responsibilities with Irving out of the lineup, along with isolation specialist Marcus Morris. In the month of March, he’s averaging 17.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on 43.2 percent shooting from 3-point range.

On Sunday against the Sacramento Kings, Rozier put up a career-high 33 points on 12-of-16 shooting. It was his sixth start in place of Kyrie Irving.

While Morris is better suited to generate offense for himself, Rozier has proven to be a serviceable facilitator for a team missing two of its best. In that same vein, Rozier has shored up almost every weakness in his game by finding ways to impact the game when he shot isn’t falling, not just by passing, but with pesky perimeter defense as well.

In his first 50 games this season, Rozier averaged about two assists per game (per Basketball-Reference). Obviously, this number should be low given that Irving and Smart were in charge of the offense, not to mention that Al Horford secretly leads the team in assists.

Since then, Rozier has more than doubled his assist output, which is especially impressive given that the Celtics’ offense hasn’t been any better than normal in recent weeks. His low turnover rate is also something I thought I would never see after he came into the league with a high, Jordan Crawford-like, uncontained dribble that I thought would shoe-horn him into a pure shooting guard role with no dribbling responsibilities.

Now, Rozier’s handles have become one of his best assets. His mesmerizing crossovers and constant movement, meandering through and around defenders, will often put the defense in awkward situations, leaving Rozier space to take a step-back 3 or go all-or-nothing on a drive to the basket. This video sums it up pretty well:

Of equal importance, he’s also shown the restraint to pass the ball instead of forcing it through traffic, which would help to explain his impressively low turnover rate.

Defensively, Rozier continues to be rock steady. Per Basketball-Reference, Rozier is 16th overall with a 103.5 defensive rating, and Cleaning the Glass ranks him in the top 25 percent of combo guards in the following categories: steal percentage, foul percentage, and defensive rebound percentage.

Just like every other guard to play in Brad Stevens’ system, Rozier has learned to be a nuisance on the perimeter without fouling too much. Unsurprisingly, Rozier’s greatest strength on this end of the floor is his speed, which lets him do silly things like this:

To complement his improved stats, Rozier has continued to approach the game with an almost concerning lack of fear. (I would be more concerned about hitting the ground at the wrong angle after jumping five feet in the air and going totally horizontal for a layup, but what do I know?).

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The playoffs are a place where the alpha dogs shine, and while it typically takes All-Star pedigree to earn that title, Rozier could care less about arbitrary qualifications. The playoffs have never slowed Rozier’s attack but instead amplified it. Any first round opponent will be a tough one to take down undermanned, but I like the Celtics’ chances if Rozier can keep up what he’s done in place of Irving.