After the two exchanged verbal barbs and even had an on-court scuffle during last year’s first round of the NBA playoffs, both Rozier and Bledsoe will resume their roles as archenemies when the Celtics and Bucks kickoff their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup Sunday.
And for Rozier, he doesn’t plan on changing the script in the second go-around with Bledsoe and the Bucks.
“Me and him, we’re two competitors,” said Rozier at practice on Friday. “No matter if we get cool outside the lines, whatever happens in the summer (when) we see each other, when we get in-between the lines, we’re two guys that want to win for our team. The bad blood will be there.”
Rozier added: “I can’t wait for it. It should be a lot of fun. I’m not going speak too much on it. I don’t want to over talk it. I’m not focused on me and him. It’s about us versus the Bucks.”
For someone who didn’t want to bring much attention to his rivalry with Bledsoe, Rozier certainly brought it back into the spotlight.
Rozier got a majority of the playing time with Kyrie Irving sidelined due to a knee injury in last year’s opening-round series with the Bucks and went head-to-head against Bledsoe on the floor before supposedly starting the feud in his Game 1 press conference when he referred to the Bucks guard as former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
Freudian slip from Rozier? Eric Bledsoe certainly didn’t think so. Rozier had his way with Bledsoe in the first two games of the series, both wins by Boston. Rozier scored 23 points in those wins to begin that series while having no turnovers in 78 minutes played. It led to Bledsoe, who played flat in those two losses, forgetting Rozier’s identity after Game 2 when a reporter asked him about the matchup, and Bledsoe responded, “I don’t even know who the (expletive) that is.”
Things didn’t cool down as the two pushed and shoved each other on the parquet in Game 5 before being separated by teammates. If only it stopped there, but it didn’t. Even after eliminating the Bucks in seven games, Rozier mocked Bledsoe and showed up to the arena for the C’s next series versus the Philadelphia 76ers in a Drew Bledsoe jersey – Rozier said he won’t rock the throwback Patriots jersey to start this series in Milwaukee.
At least give Rozier credit. He knows what sells come playoff time and a feud is the perfect way to enhance his screen time.
“Just two competitive guys. I’m pretty sure it will carry over,” Rozier said. “That’s what our fans want. I think it’s going to spice some things up and make it a lot of fun.”
While Rozier seemed to gain the upper-hand on Bledsoe in the off-court antics last year, Rozier also had the better series on the court. Rozier averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds over the course of the seven games compared to Bledsoe, who put up 13.6 points, 3.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds.
But this year, the two won’t match up as often with Rozier having a new role of coming off the bench – Rozier’s minutes have been slashed in half in the playoffs compared to last year.
For Bledsoe, though, it’s about redemption no matter who is guarding him. He sure looks awfully motivated already having shot 52.5% from the field in the Bucks first-round sweep of the Detroit Pistons while averaging 19.3 points per game.
“I’m pretty sure they want to get some get back and we’re looking forward to the tough challenge,” Rozier said.
While there are many storylines that will formulate with the Celtics and Bucks getting set for another playoff series, Rozier is right. A strong distaste for your opponent, and in particular a certain opposing player, is the perfect ingredient to ignite and fuel a series.
It isn’t seen as much these days when everybody seems to get along for the most part. But having an already built-in feud brings another aspect of Hollywood drama into this series that fans can salivate over.
But will this sequel live up to the hype? Who knows. Going to have to buy a ticket and find out.
Rozier-Bledsoe Part II. Pass the popcorn.