Celtics

Inside the return of Terry Rozier: Defensive weapon

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Celtics did what they were supposed to do in a first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, making themselves the first team to secure a spot in the Conference Semifinals. It’s hard to take too much away from a series when a team was, talent-wise, arguably the worst among the 16 that had qualified in the postseason, but there were some pretty big questions the Celtics still were seeking out in Round 1, particularly when it comes to filling the void that Marcus Smart left after going down with a torn oblique.

Before Smart's injury, Terry Rozier looked like a player who was on the verge of being the odd man out in a tightened playoff rotation following an underwhelming regular season. Brad Stevens stuck with Rozier all season despite the Celtics' offense and defense suffering when he was on the floor. His questionable shot selection and struggles finishing around the rim weighed down the offense when he was on the court and a former strength (his defense) did not translate in year four as Boston’s defense was better all year when he was on the bench.

Yet, when Smart went down, there was no question about what Rozier’s role would be in this series. He would get set minutes as the first guard off the bench and those would be his to lose. Despite his regular season struggles, he had the playoff track record and athleticism advantage over a guy like Brad Wanamaker, making him the clear cut preference of the coaching staff. That group stuck with him all year to keep his confidence up for a situation like this.

Despite a strong Game 4 (11 points on 4-of-6 shooting), Rozier did not exactly impress on offense against the Pacers. He shot just 33 percent from 3-point range and turned the ball over far more than usual (two per game), an issue that popped up team-wide against the Pacers pressure defense. The good news was that nearly all of Rozier’s shots were 3-pointers (15 of 24), which meant he was primarily operating on the floor from an area of strength. That and an improvement in his assist rate were positive steps forward, although the C’s offense struggled (98.7 offensive rating) when he was on the court.

Those scoring struggles did not matter as much, though, because of what Rozier was contributing to on the defensive end of the floor against Indy. In his 75 minutes of action, the Celtics were a defensive juggernaut, holding Indiana to just 84.3 points per 100 possessions. That mark gives Rozier the lowest defensive rating out of any player in the postseason and a 20 point improvement from his defensive rating mark in the regular season.