CHICAGO – The calls to package players and go get a dominant, superstar-caliber talent, were loud and often from Boston Celtics fans.
But president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and company preferred to stay the course and build a team that was strong on depth, particularly on the perimeter.
In doing so, it meant many nights where good players would simply watch, wait and wonder when their opportunity to play would come.
And while players say all the time that they’re ready for their opportunity, most struggle when the spotlight shines brightest – the playoffs.
That’s why the play of seldom-used Celtics Gerald Green and Terry Rozier, was so important in Game 3 and speaks to why Boston’s depth may be what gets them over the hump in their playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.
In what was one of the most ballsy calls we’ve seen in the Brad Stevens era, he opted to put Green in the starting lineup – his first start of the season – in place of Amir Johnson.
“I was just trying to bring energy,” Green said. “I feel my energy was there early on. That’s what I’m going to try and do (in Game 4).”
It was a move that no one outside of the team and the front office, saw coming.
At a minimum, it was a curveball that threw the Bulls off course temporarily. And while they have had a day or so to figure out how to combat that, it’s not like the Bulls have a lot of attractive options on that bench which is already being stretched thin with ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo out with a fractured right thumb injury suffered in Game 2.
And then you’ve got Rozier whose success as a summer league darling didn’t translate to the regular season with the kind of consistency that he or the Celtics were hoping for.
That led to him being in and out of the rotation, which he readily admits wasn’t always easy to handle.
Coincidentally, one of the constant voices encouraging him during those down times, was Green.
“He’s been huge for me,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He’s great at keeping your spirits up, helping you make sure you’re locked in and ready to go when your number's called.”
Rozier was indeed ready to go when called upon, scoring 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting in Game 3 which led all reserve scorers.
And just as significant was his impact on the game when he was on the floor, leading all reserves with a plus-minus of +19.
“When I get in, it doesn’t matter the game, my focus is always the same,” Rozier said. “I want to make plays and help this team win; that’s it.”
Boston’s Jonas Jerebko knows exactly what both players are currently experiencing. A year ago, Jerebko went from being a Celtics bench player who saw decent minutes, to a starter delivering big shots in the playoff.
After the first two games of Boston’s best-of-seven series with Atlanta last year, Stevens made the bold move of putting Jerebko into the starting lineup with the Celtics going 2-2 in that time. The move last year involving Jerebko provided an immediate jolt of energy to the first unit, but soonfaded as the Atlanta Hawks closed out the series in six games.
But this latest resurgence has a different feel about it due to Celtics seemingly having a deeper roster.
The two biggest difference-makers for them in their lone win in this series were Green who played just 47 games this season with 28 DNP-CDs (and 7 games on the inactive list with injuries); and Rozier who was also out of the regular playing rotation.
“Like I’ve been saying all season, this team is really deep,” Jerebko told CSNNE.com following the team’s practice on Saturday. “Anyone on this team can step in and contribute. It’s just a matter of getting an opportunity. The one good thing about our guys is that, whether we’re playing or not, guys always stay ready.”