Blakely: Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown will learn from Game 7 struggles




 

BOSTON - In the coming days, you'll hear a lot about the scrappy, overachieving Boston Celtics whose season came to a screeching halt on Sunday with a defensive slugfest of a game that ended with the Cleveland Cavaliers advancing to the NBA Finals with an 87-79 Game 7 win.

Because of all that Boston had to overcome this season, like going into the playoffs without their two best players (Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward), there are a lot of reasons to leave the TD Garden feeling good about this season.

But the Celtics players, they know better.

The Celtics have every reason to feel salty about Sunday's loss because to be frank, this series should not have ended like this.

It's one thing to lose to a LeBron James-led team.

No shame in that.

But to beat yourselves at home which is what the Celtics did, is as Terry Rozier put it afterwards, a "tough pill to swallow."

LeBron James was great as always with 35 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Jeff Green did a solid job filling in for Kevin Love (concussion protocol) with 19 points.

And while focusing on the Cavs and James' annual trip to the NBA Finals is a logical narrative, it's hard to ignore how the Celtics were their biggest enemy on Sunday and at the root of the team's undoing.

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Rozier, who has been a revelation of sorts during this postseason run filling in for Kyrie Irving, delivered the kind of Game 7 performance that reminds us all why Kyrie Irving is so important to this franchise in the moment and going forward, a player who has been seemingly at his best when the game's stakes are highest.

Ask the Cavs whose lone NBA title in franchise history was sealed by a basket by Irving that remains one of the most iconic shots in the franchise history of the Cavaliers.

On Sunday Rozier had just four points on 2-for-14 from the field. He didn't have a turnover but made a slew of not-so-great decisions in the fourth quarter while taking ill-advised shots that were major factors in Boston's struggles down the stretch.

But let's be honest.

Rozier's play was one of the keys to Boston even being in the Eastern Conference finals, but his Game 7 showing raises legit questions as to whether he's built for the pressure and need to produce in a game of this magnitude.

And then there's Jaylen Brown, one of the most improved players in the NBA this season.

Like Rozier, his play was instrumental in Boston's unexpected postseason run.

And also like Rozier, Brown didn't rise to the occasion when the opportunity presented itself on Sunday when he tallied 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting.

Their struggles serve as a reminder of how regardless of how talented you are and how often you display it during the course of a season and playoffs, you are only as good as you perform in the moment.

And when the moment had the greatest stakes either player has ever been in since coming to the NBA, they didn't get it done.

But there is a silver lining for both players.

Each has displayed a tireless work ethic in the offseason, evident by their improved play from one year to the next.

You can bet Sunday's Game 7 will be added fuel to motivate both to come back next season even better, even more focused on being at their best more consistently and maybe most important, in moments like Game 7.

And it is that thirst to get better, combined with a Celtics roster that should be one of the early favorites to come out of the East next season when you consider how far they got without Irving and Hayward, that will make the Celtics an absolutely scary squad to play next season.

It will be a team with lots of players stepping up, with Rozier and Brown being among the most impactful.

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There were others who certainly had sub-par performances in Game 7, but you can bet both Rozier and Brown will take it harder than most because of how important their play had been to Boston getting to the Eastern Conference finals, and how they each struggled so mightily in the most important game of the season.

The disappointment for them and Celtics fans will take some time to pass, for sure. But the future looks extremely bright for Boston whose young core will learn from having gone through such an amazing postseason journey.

And if the Celtics find themselves in a Game 7 with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake a year from now, that is when the true growth that Rozier and Brown will take from tonight's heartbreaking loss, will shine brightly.

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