Terry Rozier among those influenced by ex-Celtic Isaiah Thomas

A. Sherrod Blakely

Terry Rozier among those influenced by ex-Celtic Isaiah Thomas originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com

BOSTON -- Even though he was only a Boston Celtic for two years, Isaiah Thomas left quite the legacy.

More than any other player during those two seasons, it was Thomas' gritty play and toughness that will endear him to Celtics fans for years to come.

Thomas, who returns to the TD Garden tonight with the Denver Nuggets healthy enough to play for the first time since being traded in 2017, will see a number of familiar faces on the Celtics roster that were positively influenced during his time in Boston -- Terry Rozier among them.

Like Thomas, Rozier was a player many had their doubts about when he came into the NBA. Selected by the Celtics with the 16th overall pick in 2015, a number of draft experts viewed him as a late-first, early-second round prospect who had caught the eye of a couple of teams picking near the middle of the first round. The Celtics were one of them.

So Rozier came into the NBA with a chip on his shoulder, an undeniable edge to his play that only hardened with time courtesy of playing with Thomas . . . whom Rozier saw in many ways as a kindred spirit.

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"We're not the same player, but the toughness, grit . . . we got similarities," Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. "And the respect level. He always showed respect for me and my game, and I did the same."

But that respect is rooted in a healthy competition that has been present between them from Day One.

On Sunday, it showed on Twitter:


It is that kind of competitiveness that seemingly fueled both players while they were teammates in Boston.

Thomas was the undersized offensive spark plug off the bench who ascended to being a starter and garnered a pair of All-Star appearances in addition to being a top-five finisher in 2017 for the league's MVP award.

Rozier was the pesky guard with great lateral quickness, good instincts and a perimeter game that could heat up at any time and carry a team to victory.

Thomas' final season ended in the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland, which, as it turned out, would be the team Thomas would be traded to in the blockbuster deal that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston.

From the moment he came into the NBA, Thomas has had to overcome hurdles due to his 5-foot-9 size and draft status as the 60th and final player selected in the 2011 draft -- the same draft in which Irving was the No. 1 overall pick.

MORE ISAIAH THOMAS

Rozier's issues have had more to do with being part of a really talented Celtics team that for as long as the 6-foot-2 guard has been here, has been led by an elite, All-Star point guard -- first Thomas and now Irving, who is a six-time All-Star and just 26 years old.

Thomas now finds himself once again having to overcome adversity.

While healthy for the first time, he has struggled since returning to the Nuggets lineup while recovering from hip surgery. In nine games with the Nuggets (Denver was 5-4 in those games), Thomas has averaged 8.6 points, 1.7 assists and 1.3 rebounds while shooting a career-low 37.3 percent.

Denver coach Mike Malone, who when in Sacramento was instrumental in Thomas getting an opportunity to showcase his talent, has taken Thomas out of the rotation. Thomas hasn't played (coaches decision) in Denver's last three games -- all Nuggets victories.

"I don't know exactly what's going on there," Rozier said of Thomas being out of the rotation. "I feel like he got a short stick but he's tough, he's a warrior. He'll keep fighting. That's the thing about I.T.; he's not gonna quit; like I said, he's a warrior that goes out there every day looking to do one thing: bust his opponent's ass."

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