BOSTON — More than half of the Boston Celtics’ starting lineup was making their first postseason start Sunday afternoon.
But you’d never know given the composure the trio of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier played with.
Each were quite impactful in the Celtics’ 113-107 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their first-round NBA playoff series at TD Garden.
Brown logged a team-high 45:36 minutes, dropping 20 points on 9-for-19 shooting. Tatum registered a double-double, scoring 19 points on 8-for-18 shooting over 44 minutes with 10 rebounds. Rozier ran the point effectively, recording 23 points on 7-for-18 shooting over 40:29.
Rozier nearly played hero as well, drilling a would-be game-winning 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left to play before it was answered with a trey from Khris Middleton.
The performance of the trio was emblematic of the Celtics’ campaign as a whole, where players — particularly younger ones — are forced into magnified roles and have no choice but to figure out a way to contribute, and contribute big.
For the third-year point guard, he’s just enjoying the moment.
“It’s been amazing,” Rozier said. “This is my third time in the league, third time in the playoffs and it just keeps getting better. It’s unfortunate what happened to our teammates throughout the whole year, but we still got each other and we still fight, still got to win. I just love playing with these guys and they just give me all the confidence in the world, but this year is probably the best one. Plus I’m starting, so it’s like a dream.”
Game 1 was a tumultuous contest, to say the least. The Celtics went from a 15-0 run to end the first quarter to playing a horrid second frame, getting outscored 30-15. After ecstatics broke out at the Garden following Rozier’s 3-pointer, it quickly turned into an unsettling silence following Middleton’s shot.
Rozier and Brown have contended with those postseason ebbs and flows, as both have logged some playoff experience already in their careers. But for Tatum, it was a valuable lesson in playing through the full 48, or in Sunday’s case, 53.
“It’s a long game and we understand that and both teams are playing extremely hard so it’s going to come down to the wire,” Tatum said of what he learned in his first playoff game. “That is what I really learned today. You can’t really take plays off because every possession matters.”
That said, anxiety wasn’t really on the 20-year-old’s radar before the game.
“Nah, I wasn’t nervous,” Tatum said. “I was excited, but I wasn’t nervous at all. It was a lot of fun, I’ve always dreamed of this moment, playing in my first playoff game. It helped we were at home and we had our home crowd behind us and we got the first win.”
If the sentiment echoed by the Celtics turns out to be correct, their playoff run only is just beginning. While veterans like Al Horford — and until he returns, Marcus Smart — can help carry some of the load, the reality is these three youngsters will be the face of whatever success Boston has in the coming weeks.
While that may be a tall task for many their age, many times this trio has been forced into a situation few others have experienced. So suffice to say they are aptly prepared as anyone for it.
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