Terry Rozier has made a series of sartorial choices of late that are, shall we say, of questionable quality. Most recently, there was l’affaire Bledsoe.
Rozier arrived at Boston’s TD Garden before Monday night’s Game 1 against Philadelphia rocking a blue Drew Bledsoe Patriots jersey. This made the gaggle of media folks waiting around pregame in a quiet Celtics locker room, where Philly’s Game 5 win over Miami played silently on a TV, positively giddy.
When Rozier materialized at his locker, the group peppered him with questions about the jersey.
How did you get the jersey? Did it just come through today? Did you get it from a friend, or did you go to a store?
The jersey was both a look and a statement. After Game 1 of Round 1, Rozier referred to the Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe as Drew Bledsoe, who’s been retired from the NFL for years and currently runs a successful vineyard. Then Eric either legitimately didn’t know the third-year Celtics guard’s name or, more likely, pretended not to in front of the media. The two briefly tussled in Game 5 in the only on-court action in this mini-drama.
Then, in Game 7, the Celtics unveiled this beaut:
After Rozier (26 points on 10-for-16 shooting, including 5-for-8 from 3) and the Celtics outlasted the Bucks in that final game, the two hugged it out. Asked about it afterward, Bledsoe told reporters: “I mean, it’s the playoffs. What, you expect us to be out there shaking hands, giving out hugs the whole time? Shit ain’t gonna happen. So he had a hell of a series, man. I’ve gotta take my hat off to him.”
Funny Bledsoe should mention headgear. Rozier hasn’t been experimenting with toques in his pregame attire, but in a way, the guard tasked with running the Celtics’ offense and providing a scoring punch in Kyrie Irving’s absence has been playing around with masks.
As a youngster in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Terry Rozier had a plan.
“He told me he wanted to go to Louisville back in seventh grade,” Danny Young, Rozier’s coach in middle and high school in Shaker Heights, said. “I just asked him, ‘That’s gonna take a lot of work, are you willing to do it?’ And he said yes.”
Born in Youngstown in March 1994, Rozier was by all accounts a rambunctious child, climbing furniture and finding, and playing with, the guns his mother kept scattered around the house for security. When Rozier was 6, he moved an hour’s drive away to live with his grandmother in Shaker Heights to try to avoid the violence and crime that had affected other members of his family. His father, Terry Rozier Sr., has been incarcerated for most of the younger Rozier’s life, including a current stretch for pleading guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery. While in high school, Rozier lost a cousin and a friend to violence in Youngstown in the same year.
Though he initially struggled with the move, Rozier came to see that his mother, Gina Tucker, and grandmother, Amanda Tucker, had his best interests in mind. And he thrived, especially on the basketball court.
“He wanted to be the best. And he was gonna work at it,” Young said. “He was one of those kids that once he gets there, he wants to stay there. You always hear those stories about NBA players that make it, and then a couple of years later they’re out the league. I’m sure that that fuels him, to want to be there for the long haul and not the short term.
“He puts the work in, and the world is seeing the fruits of his labor.”
As he grew into the athletic, 6-foot-2, 190-pound guard he is today, Rozier worked on what Young said was already a well-rounded game. He took challenges personally, set goals, and worked diligently to accomplish them.
“He always competes,” Young said. “When you’re doing drills, he wants to get the maximum out of the drill. He wouldn’t go half-speed like some kids would do.”
That hard work translated to the court. In 2012, after the Raiders had come up short in previous postseasons, Young put the onus on Rozier.
“I kind of challenged him, and I said, ‘Man, you’re not doing well against our rival,’” the coach said. “And he said, ‘It won’t happen this year. Coach, I guarantee you I’ma get you out and get you to the regionals.’”
“If you challenge him,” Young said, “it motivates him to higher heights.”
After the crowd of reporters at his locker had dissipated, their jones for jersey tidbits sated, Rozier took a moment to consider his situation.
Three years after being drafted no. 16 overall, two-plus years after a stint with Boston’s G League affiliate in Maine, and nearly a month after Irving was ruled out for the season, the point guard is getting the most run of his professional career on the biggest stage possible at this point in the season.
He’s starting at point guard, with the ball in his hands early and often, for the East’s no. 2 seed. And if the injury-ravaged Celtics are going to stay alive against the favored 76ers, he needs to keep playing like he belongs in the top tier at his position.
“This league is all about opportunities,” he said, quiet, confident. “And hard work. And progressing. It’s an opportunity for me, so I definitely wanted to take advantage of it the best way I could.”
A good defender and a quality pick-and-roll playmaker, Rozier’s averaging 19 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game in the playoffs, each of those averages an uptick from his regular-season numbers (11.3, 2.9, and 4.7, respectively). He’s scored 23 or more points four times in eight playoff games, including Monday night’s 29-point outburst.
He scored 23 or more points in a game only three times in 80 regular-season games. He started just 16 times, spending most of the season spelling Irving at the point and running Brad Stevens’s second unit.
Against Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Co. in Game 1, Rozier displayed a diverse offensive game. He splashed a pull-up 3 after a fumbled exchange with Aron Baynes pushed the ball out toward the arc. He got Marco Belinelli moving backward with a burst, stopped on a dime, and hit an elbow jumper. He hit Al Horford in the post off a pick-and-roll for a bucket. And he pulled down a defensive rebound in traffic, pushed it hard upcourt, and when no Sixers defender stepped in front of him, took it all the way to the rim for a finger roll.
He also shot 7-for-9 on 3-pointers, leading a Boston attack that made 17 treys in Game 1, to improve his 3-point percentage at home in the playoffs to 56.8 percent (21-for-37). That’s obviously unsustainable (he shot 38.1 percent for the season), and Rozier’s shot just 25.9 percent from deep in three road games—in which his performance has clearly dipped—but it was a large part of the Celtics’ 117-101 win.
“Give the Celtics credit for getting to our shooters,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said postgame Monday, after the Sixers shot 19 percent from 3. “I think that when we all go away, we’re gonna look at the 3-point line from their perspective and look at the 3-point line from our perspective. Therein lies a lot of the story.”
Of the game, yes, but there’s more to the story of the Celtics’ most important new starter.
How did we get here?
It’s a complicated question that occasionally has a simple answer. For Rozier, it comes down to this: “Just up early every day. Putting in a lot of work. Watching a lot of film,” he said late Monday night. “Investing the time, investing a lot of hard work over the summer. We had a plan and we just bought in the whole summer and worked hard the whole summer.”
The “we” there includes Rozier and his trainer, Nick Friedman, who worked with the Celtics guard to fine-tune his shot, his footwork, and his passing. Cody Toppert, who trained Rozier during the 2015 predraft process, consults with him along with Friedman in the offseason, and is now the head coach of the Northern Arizona Suns of the G League, said Rozier had a tendency to shoot out, not up, coming out of Louisville, and needed to get his legs underneath him in his shooting form.
“You cannot disrespect this kid’s 3-point shot,” Toppert said. “He’s showing himself to be more than just a good 3-point shooter. That’s all reps, man. His release’s always been nice, his follow-through’s been good. But making these adjustments, that’s all repetition-based. That’s getting in the gym, that’s doing the dirty work, and that’s staying consistent with what you’re doing.”
Young, Rozier’s coach at Shaker Heights, said that motivation has never been a problem for Terry. He’s always wanted to work. He was just waiting for an opportunity to show what he can do.
“The key is if you’re gonna be one of these supplemental guys, and then injuries happen. ... Someone’s gotta be ready to jump in and take over,” Toppert said. “The Celtics faced adversity in the last round. In a seven-game series, there’s a lot of opportunity for a young team to collapse or fold under pressure. To me, it’s a testament to the work that’s been put in, to the coaching staff they have over there, and to a guy’s own individual mentality that he’s able to step up in those crucial moments.
“Because under the bright lights, some people sweat and some people shine. To me, it’s great to see Terry shine.”
With the Bledsoe beef (probably) behind him, Rozier can give Thursday’s Game 2 against Philly his full attention. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll stop thinking about fashion.
Rozier’s Instagram page features a link (URL: scaryterry.shop) to a web store where you can purchase versions of the guard’s personal T-shirt line. Which, fine. Sell some shirts, make a buck. Who are we to judge?
But the shirts themselves … are interesting.
One Instagram image, posted on February 15, shows the natty Rozier arriving at an arena, wearing a chain, ripped black jeans, and a blue jean jacket open over a white T-shirt. The shirt features a cartoon version of Rozier in a green Celtics-style uni, with “Boston” replaced by “Rozier” and his face covered by a Scream mask. Below the figure is his sobriquet: “Scary Terry.”
Though one might question the thinking behind aligning oneself with these guys, Scream is Rozier’s favorite horror movie, and the guard has a tattoo of the movie’s famous mask. (For what it’s worth, Rozier didn’t know about this Scary Terry until reporters asked him about it.) And for Round 2, there’s new swag to be had, now complete with cartoon Terry’s face, and a new two-word slogan: “Mask off.”
The shirts’ message is hard to miss: You may not have known who Scary Terry was before, but if you’ve been paying attention to the injury-riddled Celtics in the playoffs to date, you do now.