- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Languishing through the first three months of the 2012-13 campaign, Terry came up with a couple of clutch buckets to help Boston outlast Miami in double overtime in late January. He credits that as the turning point of his season.
"I could just feel it. I could just feel the fans, I could feel the enthusiasm of the game, and what I meant to the game and to my team," said Terry. "My value had been realized in that moment, and since that day I've just been more and more comfortable."
The 35-year-old Terry inked a three-year, $15.7 million contract with the Celtics during the offseason with the expectation of being the bench spark this team desperately lacked in recent years.
Terry was brought in to not only replace a bit of what the team lost when Ray Allen defected to the rival Heat, but push the Celtics over the top against their chief Eastern Conference rival. It didn't hurt that Terry had a palpable disdain for Miami, the team his Mavericks upended in the 2011 NBA Finals.
But for the first half of the season, Terry was a disappointment. Over his first 43 games, he averaged 9.8 points while shooting 42.6 percent overall and 36.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc. At times he was a defensive liability, and it was the absence of his typical big-game swagger that might have been the most confounding.
Even the man nicknamed JET (his initials) struggles to understand the reasons for all the turbulence he encountered.
"It's been a process -- one that, honestly, I thought would be a little smoother, a little easier," said Terry. "But it hasn't, and that just goes to show you that all things don't necessarily mean because you think it's going to be easy, that it turns out to be so. But, again, you've got to go through it, and that's what's special about the journey is making yourself comfortable, getting around your teammates, getting familiar with them, and then realizing your ultimate goal. And I believe this team, the way it is now, even with our injuries, has a tremendous chance to win a championship."
If these injury-depleted Celtics are to make a postseason charge, much of their success could hinge on the play of Terry.
Since that Heat matchup, the same day Rajon Rondo was diagnosed with the torn ACL that ended his season, Terry has averaged 11.2 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent overall and 40.4 percent beyond the 3-point arc. What's more, he's averaged 3.3 assists per game, serving as more of a facilitator with the second unit.
Good things are happening when Terry is on the court. For the season, Boston is plus-92 with Terry on the floor and minus-80 when he's off. Those early-season struggles now appear in the rear-view mirror.
"I think [Terry's struggle] was as much our fault as his fault," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Boston had moved Terry into a starting role while Avery Bradley rehabbed at the start of the year and that likely didn't help the integration for Terry, a former Sixth Man of the Year.
"Just trying to figure out who he is and how to get him in the right places. I don't put that on him," added Rivers. "I think it's literally 50-50, just trying to figure out his best ways. It takes some time with a guy like that. When he first went to Dallas, it probably took him a year or two to get him perfect and in the right situation. And we're still working on it. We're not there yet. But he's a lot better."
Among Boston's top rotation players, Terry has emerged as its most efficient offensive weapon. According to Synergy Sports data, he's averaging 1.012 points per play -- and that's despite a battle with turnovers early in the year.
Of all league players with at least 500 offensive possessions, Terry ranks 34th overall in points per possession, slotted right behind Golden State's Steph Curry. To put that in perspective, Boston's next qualifying player is Jeff Green, who is 73rd at 0.952 points per play. Kevin Garnett (90th, 0.935 ppp) and Paul Pierce (91st, 0.933 ppp) sneak into the top 100.
For a Boston team that tends to be offensively anemic, Terry is vital to its success. While the Celtics have seen more consistent output from their bench, including a blossoming Green, it's Terry who continues to set the tone.
After an embarrassing effort in Charlotte -- one in which Boston's bench was invisible in a lopsided loss on Tuesday night -- Terry corralled members of the second unit and reminded them of how critical the bench is to the team's success. The reserves responded with a monster effort while carrying the Celtics to victory on Friday night against Toronto.
Terry still sees room for growth for the team and his own game. His individual defensive numbers have improved and the Celtics have found success going to a zone that helps keep him on the floor in crunch-time situations without allowing teams to exploit him.
And that's all that matters to Terry: being on the floor when it matters most.
At age 35, he is taking advantage of the perks of being a veteran. He suggested Friday that he was going to take practice off but had no plans to take Rivers up on his offer to rest during game action down the stretch.
"I'm going to let the young guys have practice and I'll get my rest in practice," said Terry. "But I'm a gamer, so I won't miss any games."
For his career, Terry has never missed more than eight games in a season. In fact, he's missed only 28 games total his 14-year career, a mere 2.5 percent of the 1,114 regular-season games he's been eligible to participate in.
"We'll put an asterisk on about seven of those -- those were suspensions," cracked Terry. "But I just take huge pride in being an ironman, being there for my team. When you're thrust in a role that I am in, not many people can do it, and your team counts on you and depends on you every night."
There was a time early in the year when that wasn't so certain in Boston. Some couldn't help but wonder if there was enough JET fuel left. But Terry never lost his trademark confidence.
"Oh, not at all," he said. "Because I'm one that, the way I grew up, I believe being in adverse situations builds tremendous character, and so, being a champion, knowing how hard it is to get to a championship, I know going through this transition will mold me into a much better player."
And it's made Boston a much better team.
20hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann