BOSTON – Jae Crowder is a physical player, but there was an edge about him in Tuesday’s game against Utah that we seldom see.
And afterwards he told us why.
He was angry with fans who cheered for Gordon Hayward, feeling as though what they were doing was a sign of disrespect to him.
- Crowder: Celtics fans cheering for Hayward 'a sign of disrespect to me'
- Crowder's frustration carries over to Twitter
- Maxwell: Jae Crowder not wrong for being offended by cheering for Hayward
You never know what to expect at the TD Garden, but cheering for the opposing team’s small forward? Unless his name is Paul Pierce, that’s something you just don’t see happen all the time.
But Hayward is different on so many levels which serves as the unseen backdrop for Crowder’s frustration on Tuesday night.
Not only do Crowder and Hayward play the same position, but Hayward was the best player that Crowder’s current coach Brad Stevens ever coached when Stevens and Hayward were at Butler together.
Throw in the fact that Hayward can become a free agent this summer and the rumors churning out repeatedly that he’ll be a target for the Celtics … Crowder has every reason to feel a bit uneasy about all this.
After all, Crowder made the most of his opportunity after being traded to Boston from Dallas to emerge as a “glue-guy” kind of player whose presence and impact both on and off the floor is undeniable and has made him an integral part of this team’s DNA.
And the Twitter beef that Crowder got into after the game only made things worse for both sides.
It left the impression that there’s a segment of Celtics fans who believe Hayward would be an upgrade over Crowder and would dump him in a minute if they knew Hayward would replace him.
There’s another segment of the fan base that believes the fans were cheering Hayward on because they wanted him to choose to play with the Celtics – and Crowder – when he becomes a free agent this summer.
But the one thing we do know for sure.
Just the thought of being disrespected by fans seemed to motivate Crowder on the floor in a way that we have not seen this season, and speaks to the thin line that exists between him being thin-skinned at times, and the desire he has to be successful.
Hayward had a decent night shooting the ball with 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting, but he didn’t make a single impactful play all game long – and Crowder had a lot to do with that.
And Crowder came back with 21 points of his own on just 6-for-8 shooting which included him going 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
Crowder has been an above-average defender all season, but it seemed he took it to another level on Tuesday. And on top of that, he was about as aggressive offensively as we’ve seen him this season.
He drove to the basket more than usual, moved without the ball better which created greater space on perimeter shots.
It was the best of Jae Crowder, and it came about because he felt slighted.
So if that’s what it takes to get Crowder to play at such a high level, boo him all the time.
Because one thing we know - and this goes for whether fans are booing you at home or on the road - when you step your game up and your team wins and you’re a big part of it, all the booing and signs of disrespect can’t change that.
And at the end of the day, those same fans who were cheering for Hayward will be cheering for Crowder.
But he’s not looking for their support.
He wants respect, something he feels he has done enough of with this team and this franchise to garner.
I agree with him.
He does deserve respect.
But the same holds true for fans who deserve the right to cheer for whoever they choose, whenever they choose to do so.
The bottom line is that Crowder needs to focus on what he can control.
And more nights than not, that comes down to his play which is where his attention should be anyway, and not on few fans who might like an opposing player better than you.
Crowder is too good a player to let something like this get the better of him.
And I trust when he’s had a chance to reflect on this night, he’ll see there’s only one thing he can do now.
Move on to the next game and let the cheers and jeers fall where they may.