The once burning feud between Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe and Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier could potentially rekindle itself when the two teams meet in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday.
If you don’t remember, Bledsoe and Rozier engaged in a hilariously petty beef during last year’s NBA playoffs which included Rozier accidentally referring to Bledsoe as former New England Patriots quarterback “Drew Bledsoe” and continued once Bledsoe responded by saying he didn’t even know who Rozier was – despite Rozier putting up 23 points on Bledsoe in the game prior.
This year, the circumstances are different for each team, but the beef should be renewed according to Rozier.
“It’s just two competitive guys,? said Rozier after practice Friday afternoon at the Auerbach Center. “I’m pretty sure it’ll carry over. That’s sports. That’s what the fans want, they need. I think it’ll spice it up and make it a lot of fun.”
“Me and him, we’re two competitors. No matter if we get cool outside the lines, whatever happens in the summer, we see each other, whatever. We get between the lines, we’re two guys who want to win for our team. It’s going to be there, the bad blood’s going to be there.?
Unlike last season’s series, Rozier likely won’t be playing nearly as much as he did and without as much dependability. Celtics star Kyrie Irving was sidelined during the postseason in 2018 due to a knee injury and Rozier was asked to step up – which he did in spectacular fashion. The former Louisville guard averaged 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists in seven playoff games against the Bucks last season and played the most minutes among any of his teammates. He was a massive reason why the Celtics were able to take down the Bucks and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
But Bledsoe wasn’t his usual self in that series. His entire season was overshadowed by that series. Because in reality, Bledsoe played outstanding all of last year, averaging nearly 18 points per game as a first-year Buck, but he was thoroughly outplayed by Rozier in the first round. This year, the entire situation has done a 180.
The Bucks are no longer coached by Jason Kidd, rather a basketball genius in Mike Budenholzer, who has propelled – along with the likely MVP Giannis Anteotkounmpo – this team to the best overall record in the NBA and the top seed in the playoffs. The scheme is entirely different now. The Bucks run everything through Antetokounmpo and surround him with capable shooters/scorers, which has resulted in a top-5 offense.
The Celtics were seen as a playoff Cinderella of sorts last season due to a flurry of injuries but eventually flamed out against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now fully healthy, the Celtics have struggled to hit the ground and find the balance they need to consistently compete against the top teams. They needed seven games to beat the Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers. The Bucks, on the other hand, look like world-beaters, sweeping the Pistons and winning by an average nearly 24 points per outing.
Back in January, Bledsoe told ESPN how “It was my fault we lost the Boston series,”. This is his shot at redemption. The near All-Star selection this season was nice. His four-year, $70 million extension was even nicer. But this series is what he’s been working towards ever since last April. Everything else means nothing if he doesn’t go out and play the way he has all season.
Bledsoe posted averages of 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in four round one games against the Detroit Pistons on shooting splits of 52.5 (FG%)/31.6 (3PT)/81.8 (FT%) in nearly 28 minutes per game. Rozier played under 20 minutes per game and averaged fewer than eight points in those outings against the Indiana Pacers in round one.
At this moment, Bledsoe is playing better basketball than he has in his entire life. Rozier is struggling to shoot 40 percent from the field.
The Bucks are on a path much larger and more significant last season. There is belief they’ll make it to the NBA Finals (I am one of those believers) and that they could even challenge Golden State if the Warriors don’t get its act together in time. Antetokounmpo will lead them there, but they need everything they can get from Bledsoe. If that means forgoing any/all beef with Rozier in order to focus on the big picture then so be it. Bledsoe needs to show up in this series. And he can’t do that if he’s tangling with Rozier for no reason. Remember what just happened with Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook? It’s time for Bledsoe to show up Rozier and Boston with his play.
Game 1 tips-off on Sunday at 1 p.m. on ABC.