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Jae Crowder injury blessing in disguise? 03.17.16 at 1:59 am ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder has only missed the last two games due to a high ankle sprain, but his value to the Celtics has never been more clear than it is right now.

The main causes of back-to-back losses to the Thunder and Pacers has been a combined 53 points from the opposing starting small forwards — Kevin Durant and Paul George. Toss in Friday night’s loss against perimeter scoring stud James Harden’s Rockets (the game Crowder went down) and it’s pretty evident that the C’s desperately miss Crowder’s services.

Crowder has been on an interesting NBA journey of late. An afterthought in the Rajon Rondo trade with Dallas, the Marquette product impressed during his four-month stint in Boston last season. So much so that Danny Ainge inked him to a five-year $35 million deal — a hefty commitment to someone who hadn’t been productive for all that long.

Fast-forward less than a year and the deal appears to be another genius move by Ainge, as Crowder is widely considered one of the best contracts in the NBA. Put him on the open market this offseason and he’s easily worth double what Ainge scooped him up for.

After a season of praise for the rising star, and deservingly so, Wednesday’s blowout loss to the Thunder offered the perfect excuse for Crowder’s coach and teammates to deflect admitting just how much they’re really missing him.

“Hey, I think Jae’s really, really good,” Brad Stevens said following the 130-109 defeat. “But I think we would’ve needed our whole team to play better tonight. Obviously we missed Jae, we love having Jae, we want him to be healthy and back. But we have to play well without him. That’s the bottom line. There should be no excuses.”

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Read More: Jae Crowder,
Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard explain how Kevin Durant, Thunder manhandled Celtics 03.17.16 at 12:10 am ET
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In an overpowering display, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook helped the Thunder score 42 points in the third quarter, build a lead of 30 points before coasting to a 130-109 win over the undermanned Celtics on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Durant had 28 points while Westbrook added 24 for the Thunder (46-22). The Celtics (39-29) lost their third straight and fell to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics were led by Isaiah Thomas, who had a game-high 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field. But the Celtics lost their second straight without the injured Jae Crowder.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Durant, Mike Petraglia, NBA
Isaiah Thomas says Celtics ‘punked’ by Thunder, ‘soft as tissue’ in embarrassing loss 03.16.16 at 11:58 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas was embarrassed.

Even though he scored a game-high 29 points and made 11-of-19 shots from the floor, he was embarrassed by his team’s 130-109 loss to the Thunder at TD Garden before a national TV audience.

The Celtics gave up 42 points in the third quarter, the most points they’ve surrendered in any 12-minute period this season. The 130 points were the most they’ve allowed in regulation this season and the most any Celtics team has allowed in regulation since 2004. 

Kelly Olynyk’s returned from a 12-game absence due to a shoulder injury didn’t overcome the loss of Jae Crowder (ankle) for a second straight game. Not even close. 

At one point of the third quarter, it got so bad, the Celtics trailed by 30.

“They punked us. We played soft as tissue,” Thomas lamented. “That third quarter, they took advantage of every little thing they could have. With a good team like that, you can’t have that happen. So, whoever is playing, whether Jae’s out, Kelly’s back, they punked us. That was basically what it was. They were the tougher team, no question.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Kevin Durant
Brad Stevens on Kelly Olynyk’s return: ‘He looked like a guy that hadn’t played in 5 1/2 weeks’ 03.16.16 at 11:14 pm ET
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Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) returned from a right shoulder injury Wednesday. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

Celtics center Kelly Olynyk returned from a right shoulder injury Wednesday. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

It was pretty much what Kelly Olynyk and his coach expected Wednesday night.

The 7-footer made his return to the Celtics rotation against the Thunder after missing 12 games with a partially separated right shoulder. Before Olynyk entered the game for Marcus Smart with 4:47 left in the first quarter, his status was up in the air until shortly before game time, when the big man determined he felt good enough to get back on the court.

In his team’s 130-109 blowout loss, Olynyk played 22 minutes off the bench. He certainly showed signs of rust, shooting just 1-for-7 from the field, including 0-for-2 from beyond the arc. He finished with eight points, six of which came from the free throw line.

In his postgame press conference, Celtics coach Brad Stevens did not sugarcoat his evaluation of Olynyk.

“He looked like a guy that hadn’t played in 5 1/2 weeks, which is to be expected,” Stevens said. “Which is why we put him back in at the end of the game. The more minutes the better.”

Olynyk took several hits to his shoulder early in the game, including one from Kevin Durant with 19.4 seconds left in the opening quarter that resulted in him missing one of his two free throws. Olynyk appeared to be uncomfortable at times. He stayed in the game, however, playing through the pain.

“Yeah, took a couple hits to it, little pain and discomfort,” Olynyk said. “And you know, just trying to keep its strength and keep those muscles activated. … hopefully you don’t take too big of a bump, but other than that it felt all right out there. It was just good to get back in the rhythm.”

The Celtics now have dropped three straight games in what is a critical stretch of the season. Next, the team will travel to Toronto to face yet another formidable opponent in the Raptors. Olynyk hopes to put this game in the rearview and help his team pick up a much-needed win Friday.

“It was good to be back out there, unfortunately the game didn’t go the way we wanted,” Olynyk said. “But we have another Friday and we’ve got to keep pushing.”

Read More: Brad Stevens, Celtics, Kelly Olynyk,
Studs and Duds: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook dominate as Thunder destroy Celtics 03.16.16 at 9:35 pm ET
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Mar 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) drives the ball against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Thunder forward Kevin Durant drives against Celtics guard Marcus Smart in the first half at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Thunder only happens when it’s raining — raining jump shots, that is.

The Thunder shot 49 percent from the field and 41 percent  from beyond the arc (12-for-29) on their way to an easy 130-109 win over the Celtics. Kevin Durant (28 points) and Russell Westbrook (24 points) led the way for the Thunder, while Isaiah Thomas scored 29 in the loss. 

Durant scored the Thunder’s first seven points, knocking down a 3 before abusing Marcus Smart on back-to-back post-ups. Not to be outdone, Westbrook scored the team’s next six points, as the Thunder built an early 10-point lead.

The only Celtic who could consistently hit an outside shot, Thomas did his best to keep pace with the dynamic scoring duo, but received little help from his supporting cast. The Celtics finished 5-of-19 from behind the 3-point line, with Thomas accounting for three of the five makes. 

Without Jae Crowder, who missed his second game due to a high ankle sprain, the Celtics had no answer for the high-powered attack of Westbrook and Durant. In addition to their 53 points, the pair dished out five and nine assists, respectively.

At the half, with the C’s only down 66-55, it still felt as if the Celtics had a chance to keep the game close. The Thunder quickly put an end to that notion, opening the second half with an 11-2 run, on their way to an outrageous 42-point third quarter — the most points allowed by Boston in a frame this season.

There was some positive news for the C’s, as Kelly Olnyk returned after missing the past 12 games with a partially separated right shoulder. He looked to still be in some pain and finished with eight points in 18 minutes. Amir Johnson (11 points, 12 rebounds) recorded his fifth double-double of the season.

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Brad Stevens on return of Kelly Olynyk: ‘We’ll see how much he plays’ 03.16.16 at 6:08 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (L) and center Kelly Olynyk (41) are searching for best return path. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens and center Kelly Olynyk are searching for the best return path. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

After 12 games on the sidelines, it appears Kelly Olynyk finally is ready to return to action. 

Olynyk is expected to return from his partially separated right shoulder just in time to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder on Wednesday at TD Garden.

“Kelly told me at shootaround that he thinks he’s going to give it a go, but we’ll wait till he gets through all this stuff, but it sounds like he’s going to try to give it a go,” coach Brad Stevens said an hour, 45 minutes before tipoff Wednesday. “We’ll see how much he plays. Obviously he hasn’t done much other than our practices the last five-plus weeks.”

Olynyk injured the shoulder in the first half of the game against the Clippers on Feb. 10 at the Garden. It appeared that he would be ready to go Tuesday in Indiana after taking part in a full contact practice on Sunday. But he was held out after indicating to coaches that he wasn’t quite ready. 

“I think [confidence] is a big deal,” Stevens said. “That’s depending on how much pain you’re having. There’s only one person that can answer that question and that’s him. That’s why he’s been smart about it. We didn’t want him to come back until he was ready to roll and didn’t feel tentative. He’s going to have some pain there and that’s part of it. But I think at the end of the day he feels more comfortable today than he has before.”

The Celtics could use Olynyk’s 3-point prowess. He leads the team at 41.3 percent. The Celtics have converted just 16 of 63 from beyond the arc in the last two games, both losses. 

“If you’re going to play small, you better be able to shoot,” Stevens said. “You better be able to make shots or you better be able to get out in transition and really run because otherwise the lane’s clogged. We’re going to have to continue to find better shots than we did last night. I thought we guarded about as well as we could have last night. That’ll be significantly tested again. Hey, this is a tough stretch of games for us. I’m conscious of that. At the same time, I think we need to play better offensively to beat a team of this caliber.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Coty Clarke, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant on Boston: ‘I like the city a lot’ 03.16.16 at 4:04 pm ET
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Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

In Boston for a nationally televised showdown with the Celtics on Wednesday night, impending free agent Kevin Durant said exactly what every C’s fan wanted to hear.

“I like the city a lot,” the Oklahoma City forward told The Boston Globe from shootaround in the hours before tipoff. “It’s cold, but they love sports here. It’s a family atmosphere I feel when I walk around the city, so yeah, I like it a lot.”

As the Globe’s Gary Washburn noted, injuries have prevented the 2013-14 NBA MVP from playing at TD Garden since Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were still starting for the Celtics during the 2012-13 season. But that hasn’t kept Durant from keeping an eye on the rebuilding efforts of coach Brad Stevens in Boston.

“I’ve been watching this team a lot,” he added. “They’re scrappy. They play hard. They love their coach. They love their system, and especially in this building, they play with a lot of energy. So it’s going to be a tough test.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Durant, NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder
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