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Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley return to lineup for Celtics against Cavaliers, who will be without big man Tristan Thompson 04.05.17 at 8:01 pm ET
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LeBron James is always a challenge.  (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James is always a challenge. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

For most, Wednesday’s showdown between the Celtics and Cavaliers is considered Boston’s most important game of the season. 

But for Celtics coach Brad Stevens, this battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference is just another game. 

With Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder both expected to start, Stevens’ starting five will be at full strength against the champion Cavaliers, who will be playing without big man Tristan Thompson (sprained thumb). But according to Stevens, preparation for taking on the champs is no different than any other opponent. Both squads are 50-27.

“We don’t talk big game/small game, we talk about the next game and trying to do the best that we can against our opponent,” Stevens said. “I know that sounds really boring but that’s the way I look at it — the way I go about it. These have all grown up playing big games their whole lives.”

After some speculation of whether coach Ty Lue would rest his guys, the Cavaliers are expected to start all of their big three members in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. However, Stevens says Cleveland’s second unit — which has been plagued by injuries since the All-Star break — is often overlooked.

“Those guys are great players,” Stevens said. “No one talks about it, but when we beat them, they didn’t have [J.R.] Smith. They’re going to continue to round in form as those guys are back playing together and now their getting fully healthier with [Kyle] Korver back and everyone else. It’s a really tough team to play against.”

Having Crowder back definitely helps.

“I just think Jae’s really important in general because he allows us what we just talked about with Cleveland,” Stevens explained. “Cleveland is — obviously Golden State, maybe a couple of others — the best at being able to play a bunch of different ways and Jae allows us to play different ways because of his ability to play both the 3 and swing to the 4.”

When asked about the possibility of resting his guys before the start of the postseason, Stevens said he’s given it very little thought, but will continue to check in with his medical staff and make sure his team is at full strength come playoff time.

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, Jae Crowder
Front court steps up big in win over Heat, Celtics now tied with Cavs for No. 1 03.26.17 at 8:59 pm ET
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Mar 26, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) grabs a rebound on Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder (17) grabs a rebound during the second half of the Boston Celtics 112-108 win over the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Jae Crowder scored a season-high 25 points in Celtics win over the Heat (Winslow Townson/USA Today)

It’s not something you see on a consistent level but when the Celtics front court put together the kind of production we saw against the Heat — on both ends of the floor — Boston is very difficult to beat. 

Anchored by Jae Crowder, the Celtics front line was sensational against the Heat and made all the difference in the second half, where the C’s grabbed their first double-digit lead and eventually their 48th win of the season. After beating the Heat 112-108, the Celtics now hold the most wins in the Eastern Conference and are tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Crowder got it going early, knocking in mid-range jump shots and easy layups in transition. He also forced turnovers on the other end (two steals, two blocks) and his intensity was contagious. Crowder finished with 25 points on 8-of-13 attempts, including 3-of-5 from deep to go with his 6 rebounds.

With 3:53 left in the game, Crowder drained a 3-pointer to recapture the Celtics lead (102-101) and ignited the loudest roar of the night at TD Garden. From there, Thomas took care of the rest — scoring six of the following eight points for the Celtics (108-105) and before the Heat attempted to make a final push Boston’s defense made a crucial stop that led to a loose ball foul on Goran Dragic.

Marcus Smart split the pair but on the rebound of the second attempt, Heat center Hassan Whiteside appeared to have grabbed the ball early before letting it bounce off the rim. After officials’ review, Whiteside was whistled for goaltending and the Celtics were awarded two points and a two-possession game.  

Thomas scored a game-high 30 points but Crowder’s play, along with the rest of the starting front line, certainly stood out the most on Sunday. It complimented Thomas’ scoring and exemplified how tough the Celtics are when Crowder, Horford and Johnson are on point. 

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Read More: Celtics, Jae Crowder,
Two years later, Rajon Rondo trade goes down as one of Danny Ainge’s greatest deals 03.13.17 at 4:47 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

When the Celtics finally traded Rajon Rondo in December 2014, his value was at a nadir. The mercurial point guard was in the final year of his contract and coming off a mysterious hand injury that took longer to heal than anticipated. With that in mind, Danny Ainge was lauded for extracting any value from the Mavericks in return for him. 

But as it turns out, the trade was a heist. 

The Mavericks’ package for Rondo centered around a 2016 first-round pick (Guerschon Yabusele), 2016 second-round selection (Demetrius Jackson) and a then-little-known forward named Jae Crowder. Though the picks received much of the attention at the time, Crowder has turned into perhaps the team’s best all-around players. This revelation is hardly breaking news, but it was especially on display Sunday, when Rondo spent the majority of the contest on the bench while the Celtics shellacked the Bulls. 

Despite only being 1.5 games out of the playoffs, the Bulls are preparing to rebuild. Maybe the most telling moment of their futile season came in late January, when Rondo called out his running mates, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. In an Instagram post, Rondo lambasted their leadership style after they had publicly called out some of their teammates. 

“My vets would never go to the media,” he wrote. “They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”

Playing for his fourth team in three seasons, the 31-year-old Rondo is far from being the max contract player he once thought he was. That was obvious Sunday. He logged just 18 mins in the Celtics’ 100-80 victory, scoring two points with six assists, three rebounds and three steals. Even though Rondo is healthy, he hasn’t started a game since Nov. 30. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jae Crowder, Rajon Rondo
Celtics defense shines in impressive win over Rockets 01.26.17 at 6:15 pm ET
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Jan 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) battle for the ball during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics defense forced 17 turnovers in their 120-109 win at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

In their most impressive win of the season, the Celtics outscored one of the best offenses in the league while containing Houston’s leading scorer in a 120-109 victory over the Rockets.

The Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Isaiah Thomas scored a game-high 38 points, Al Horford flirted with a double-double (23 points, 9 assists) and Jae Crowder (23 points, 10 rebounds) had a productive night but what stood out the most about the Celtics’ much needed win was their defense.

Harden, who entered last night’s game as the league’s second leading scorer, went cold in the third quarter (1-of-5) after Crowder — the team’s defensive anchor — cranked up his intensity and rattled the MVP candidate. Although Harden finished with a team-high 30 points, it took him 18 attempts to get there as he finished the night shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and committed seven of the team’s 17 turnovers.

More than half of Harden’s points came from the free-throw line — where he drained 16-of-19 attempts.

Throughout the Celtics’ three-game losing streak, the defense in the back court had been a turnstile for opposing guards like Bradley Beal, John Wall, C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose. All five guards finished with at least 28 points or more against the C’s while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. With Avery Bradley still out of the lineup, the stars were aligned for Harden to have a monster shooting night but that certainly wasn’t the case.

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown, who got the start over Marcus Smart in the backcourt, kept up with Harden in the first quarter before Smart and Crowder took turns pestering the veteran and forcing him to commit turnovers throughout the second half. For the first time in a while, the Celtics were a cohesive unit on the defensive end of the floor. It started with Crowder but was sustained with help from guys like Smart, Horford — who finished with a game-high plus-21 rating — and Jonas Jerebko in the front court. 

Jerebko, along with Brown, was another addition in the starting lineup against the Rockets in place of Amir Johnson and didn’t disappoint, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He finished with 7 rebounds and made the most of 23 minutes of playing time by clogging the lanes and providing plenty of help-defense in the post.

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Read More: Jae Crowder, James Harden,
Despite loss to Knicks, Jae Crowder proves he’s more valuable to Celtics than Carmelo Anthony could ever be 01.18.17 at 9:53 pm ET
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Jae Crowder was one of the few bright spots in the Celtics' loss Wednesday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Jae Crowder was one of the few bright spots in the Celtics’ loss Wednesday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

When Phil Jackson divulged over the summer that his biggest regret as president of the Knicks was not taking Jae Crowder when he had the opportunity to do so, it was as intriguing as it was dumbfounding.

With the Knicks now 43 games into their season — 19-24 after their 117-106 win against the Celtics on Wednesday — it’s become more clear why.

Part of the concern, a legitimate one at that, was his reluctance to make a move for Crowder because he would sit behind Carmelo Anthony. He instead took a second-round pick the Mavs owed the Celtics and turned it into Cleanthony Early, a decision in hindsight that would make even the biggest optimist cringe.

Despite the Celtics losing, Wednesday night proved a clear indication as to why the indecision was not only so frustrating for Jackson, but also why Crowder is so valuable to the Celtics.

Anthony, currently knee-deep in conflict with Jackson, put together 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting on Wednesday. He added four rebounds and three assists. Crowder, on the other hand dropped 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with five rebounds and an assist.

(For a complete recap, click here)

And while it’s nonsense to look at one game as a basis comparison, the differences amongst the two has been lurking all season.

As Crowder helped take control of the game, the difference between him and Anthony became borderline palpable as they guarded one another. Crowder, ever intense, yet composed, guarded Anthony, who looked apathetic and nonexistent on the floor, hardly ever running more than a few steps at a time. A hard fall from the presence he used to own on the floor.

The 32-year-old Anthony, once a top player in the league, was essentially nonexistent on both sides of the ball, and has been visibly on the decline for the majority of the season. And while his supporting cast hasn’t exactly been shining around him, a team that boasts Anthony, Joakim Noah, Derek Rose and Kristaps Porzingis is vastly underperforming from where they should be.

This is where Crowder comes back into play. New York Post writer Marc Berman toyed with the idea of a Melo to Boston trade. Melo and $3 million to the Celtics, with the Knicks getting Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and the Celtics’ 2018 first round pick.

The idea of such a deal nestled the line of lunacy before the Knicks even took the TD Garden floor. But Wednesday was as much validation as necessary for the 26-year-old Crowder to stay around. While there is no such thing as untouchable, Crowder, along with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford are about as untouchable as they get — especially with the core they’ve established.

The Celtics may be one more piece or “star” away from being true contenders, but Melo isn’t that piece. Especially not at the expense of Crowder.

As frequent of a target as Anthony has been to the Celtics every time he was being shopped around or an impending free agent, it’s tough to resist the idea of him in green. But given his current on and off the court state, it’s become clear as ever that wherever he ends up, it shouldn’t be Boston.

Crowder is probably the biggest noisemaker off the court, but a tweet chastising fans for cheering an opposing player pales in comparison to locker room tirades.

The Celtics have made their calling card this season a blue collar and chemistry-heavy type of play. They aren’t going to match up with the top teams in the East from a skills perspective, but the way they can grind has kept them in the conversation as one of the East’s toughest teams. The addition of Anthony or subtraction of Crowder — or both — would ruin that.

Read More: Carmelo Anthony, Jae Crowder,
John Wall brushes off postgame incident with Jae Crowder as ‘just some altercation’ 01.12.17 at 12:48 am ET
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Jan 11, 2017; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) is guarded by Washington Wizards forward / center Jason Smith (14) during the third quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) is guarded by Wizards forward Jason Smith (14) during the third quarter at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

On a night that Floyd Mayweather was courtside, it was only appropriate that Wednesday’s Celtics-Wizards game ended with a fight. 

As the players were filing off the court in the wake of Boston’s 117-108 win, the banged up John Wall crossed paths with Jae Crowder. The Celtics forward started talking to Wall, who took exception. Crowder pointed his finger in Wall’s face and the two teams started pushing and shoving, a melee that spilled into the tunnel leading to the locker rooms behind the Wizards bench. 

“Just some altercation,” Wall said when asked about it. “We knew there was going to be some trash talking.  We knew it was going to be a physical game. That’s all it was. Just a little trash talking and a physical game.

“My right pinky is messed up and my left wrist is swollen.  I’ll probably get an X-Ray and see what’s wrong with it.  I knew it was hurting.  I knew it was painful before the game.  It was a big game for us.  I just tried to come out and play through it and the results came out how it was.”

Brad Stevens said he didn’t see it but heard about it and reminded his players what was expected in terms of behavior.  

“I heard what was going on in the tunnel. All I did was walk out. There were only two guys that were walking in from the court from our team, and I just said, ‘Get in the locker room.’ And then I talked to the team about what we represent and that’s it,” Stevens said. “I don’t know what happened.  I have no idea – I haven’t asked yet. I’ll find out after I get back to the locker room.”

Crowder admitted it was a challenge to keep his cool in a game with such high intensity. 

“It was a good fight,” Crowder said. “It was a good fight. Both teams coming off a back-to-back. So the effort was truly there, and it was two teams playing hard.”

Crowder said he and the Celtics were very aware the referees were allowing a physical game. 

“We talked about that at halftime,” Crowder added. “The refs weren’t calling it tight, so we were able to get up into guys and play a little physical. And that’s what happened.”

 

 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, John Wall, NBA
Pregame Friday: Celtics look for guys like Jae Crowder with ‘chips on their shoulders’, Tyler Zeller out the weekend 01.06.17 at 7:27 pm ET
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Listening to Brad Stevens before Friday’s game with the Sixers and you get the distinct idea that Celtics didn’t mind Jae Crowder being ticked off by the cheers for Gordon Hayward Tuesday night at TD Garden.

They could’ve just done without him taking his frustrations to social media.

“I think the chip on your shoulder thing is a good thing in a lot of ways,” Stevens said. “Jae talked about it again [Thursday]. I think the one thing that he said he wishes he wouldn’t have taken it to Twitter late. But at the end of the day, we’ve prioritized guys with chips on their shoulders and guys that really want to be good and believe they can be really good and work the right way because we think that’s contagious.”

Danny Ainge also indicated on the team’s flagship station Thursday morning that he wouldn’t mind Celtics fans cheering opposing team’s players if it’s going to inspire Crowder to greatness on the court. Stevens indicated he thought Crowder would not miss a beat and continue playing well.

“I would think fine,” Stevens said. “Yeah, I mean I would think fine. And he said his part [Thursday] and we’ve talked about it a lot. So, our focus since right after media was over [Thursday] was on the Sixers and getting ready for tonight’s game.”

Crowder is averaging 13.3 points, five rebounds and 2.3 assists this season.

Fingers crossed: The Celtics will be without back-up big man Tyler Zeller for two more games as he battles to return from a stomach bug that sent him to the hospital on New Year’s Day.

“Tyler is out for the next two games,” Stevens said Friday. “He got on the bike [Thursday]. He’s going to work out again today but he’s still pretty under weather. Jordan Mickey’s got it now so he’s out. That’s it for now. James Young continues to be out an ankle sprain.”

Stevens was asked if he was feeling OK. “I’m good, knock on wood,” the coach quipped. “Same precautions everybody else takes, right. Wash your hands and cross your fingers.”

What about a quarantine for Isaiah Thomas?

“It’s all part of it,” Stevens said without missing a beat. “You go and see any game that’s played in the NBA right now, somebody’s been sick. You just move on with who’s available.”

All-Star push: The Celtics continued their social media and media relations campaign to get representation on the All-Star team this February in New Orleans. Friday’s focus: Avery Bradley. The guard is averaging career-highs in points (17.8), rebounds (6.9), assists (2.4) and 3-point percentage (40.8). Of course, Bradley is considered the Celtics best defensive player as well. Stevens was asked Friday if a player’s defense should factor in the selection of such honors as All-Stars and player of the month.

“Should be half because that’s half the game but that’s not the way those things are chosen,” Stevens said.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, NBA
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