Terry Rozier didn’t start the Boston Celtics’ season-opening win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night at TD Garden, but he finished it.
Celtics starting point guard Kyrie Irving didn’t play well in his first game since March, so it was Rozier who got the minutes late in the game. In fairness to Irving, Boston was leading 94-84 when Rozier checked in for the final 4:28 of the fourth quarter, but it was a well-deserved final stint for the young guard.
Rozier did a very good job on both ends of the floor in his 27 minutes of playing time Tuesday night.
His defense was impressive. The 24-year-old was fighting over screens to contest outside shots, chased around 76ers sharpshooter JJ Redick all night and got his hands into passing lanes. His emphatic block on 76ers center Joel Embiid was his best defensive play of the night. As soon as he saw Embiid turn and attack the basket against Aron Baynes, Rozier wisely left Markelle Fultz — a non-shooting threat — and emphatically swatted the shot from behind.
The Celtics bench scored 44 points on 18-for-34 shooting, compared to the 76ers getting just 26 points from their second unit. This production was pivotal in the outcome because Celtics starters Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and Irving combined to score only 26 points.
Rozier’s 11 points (on 5-for-10 shooting) were the second-most off Boston’s bench, and two of them came on this sweet move on Embiid.
Rozier got it done on the boards, too, grabbing eight rebounds off the defensive glass.
This performance was a perfect example of why it’s hard to imagine the C’s moving Rozier before the trade deadline, even if that means they lose him as a restricted free agent next summer. He gives Celtics coach Brad Stevens tremendous depth with two starting-caliber point guards, and his ability to positively impact both ends of the floor is quite valuable.
Rozier, now in his fourth season, is a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. Stevens will find plenty of minutes for him, and Rozier is playing for a new contract. He has all the motivation needed to have a sensational campaign, and that’s good news for a Celtics team aiming for a championship.