BOSTON – There was no Gordon Hayward, no Al Horford, and no Kyrie Irving in Boston’s lineup Monday night when it took on the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. Yet, with their stars resting for the night, the Celtics shockingly managed to come away their most convincing win of the preseason, as they took down the 76ers 113-96.
You can thank 23-year-old guards Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart for that.
Coach Brad Stevens placed the pair of tenacious guards into Boston’s starting lineup, alongside Aron Baynes, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and the result was magnificent.
Rozier and Smart energized the C’s out of the gate, as they combined for 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting during the first quarter alone, all while helping the C’s build a 37-20 lead.
Seeing such life out of that unit was a breath of fresh air for Brad Stevens, who has been working diligently to mix and match different groups of players to form various rotations.
He may have struck gold with that particular combination of players, most of whom will likely form Boston’s second unit this season.
“I thought [that energy] was one of the things that was kind of missing from our first five days or so of practice as we were trying to figure out what were going to do with that unit,” the coach reflected after the game. “We basically had [Rozier and Smart] separated most of that time and I just think they bring a lot when they’re on the court together.
“The energy that they play with, the way that they can lift you on offense and defense,” added Stevens. “Hopefully that can be a real uplifting group for us; they certainly led the way tonight.”
Being the two longest-tenured members of the team, it should be of no surprise that Rozier and Smart are working well together on the court. That, and the fact they’re basically two peas in a pod when it comes to their non-stop intensity on both ends of the floor.
Right after Rozier was drafted by the C’s in 2015, he knew that he and Smart had the potential to become a dynamic duo. Sure enough, their bond began to form that offseason during Summer League play, and it has continued to grow stronger since.
“It’s great to play with him,” said Rozier, who stuffed the stat sheet Monday night with 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in just 23 minutes of action. “He makes my job a lot easier, and we both got that grit and that grind. We’re always going to play hard, so we complement each other out there.”
Smart agreed, adding, “Terry’s another guard that scraps, and he’s a great player. So being able to have somebody, a counterpart like that in the backcourt with me is tremendous. And that’s going to help us, especially going forward into the season.”
Not only will their energy help boost the second unit; it will also rub off on their teammates and inspire them to play in a similarly tenacious manner.
Brown expects that to be the case after experiencing extensive playing time during his rookie season alongside Rozier and Smart.
“They’re the catalysts,” said the second-year wing, who tallied 12 points and nine rebounds during the win. “They’re the ones who start it off. They’ve been here the longest, so everybody’s watching those guys and following after them. So when they set the tone and we match it, it’s going to be ugly for a lot of teams.”
“Ugly” is the best way to describe the 76ers’ performance Monday night, as they trailed the Celtics by as many as 34 points. It should be even uglier for opposing teams once the regular season begins, when Rozier, Smart and the rest of the Celtics’ second unit are backing up the likes of All-Stars Hayward, Horford and Irving.