BOSTON – If you go solely by the box scores, Jae Crowder’s play has been about the same as it was prior to a high right ankle sprain injury that sidelined him for eight games.
But upon closer inspection, the 6-foot-6 forward looks at times a half step slow on close-outs, with an occasional Celtics turnover coming about when he’s looking to dive to the basket and a teammate thinks he’s going to pop out for a jumper.
But with each passing game, Crowder is indeed getting closer to the form he displayed earlier. And that’s a good thing for the Celtics who will need strong play from Crowder if they are to have the kind of postseason success they are aiming for.
Crowder acknowledged he's still working his way towards getting back to where he was health-wise prior to the March 11 injury, but definitely feels he's making progress.
“I feel pretty good,” Crowder told reporters after Boston’s 118-107 loss to Atlanta on Saturday. “I’m a little tired of course. I feel I’m getting better; my wind is getting better.”
One of the challenges for both Crowder and the Celtics has been getting him back to the conditioning level he was at prior to the March 11 injury against Houston.
Because of his versatility and willingness to defend all perimeter positions as well as some bigs like Atlanta’s Al Horford, it takes a tremendous amount of conditioning to contend with so many different players with various skillsets and degrees of athleticism.
While his minutes since returning are comparable to what he logged prior to the injury, the Celtics have had to divvy them up differently to compensate for his conditioning issues. And let’s be clear. The issue isn’t that Crowder’s conditioning is bad, but rather it’s not where it has to be in order for him to be a high impact performer. And that lack of conditioning has everything to do with the nature of his injury didn’t afford him to do much conditioning during the eight consecutive games he missed.
That’s why his play against the Hawks was one of the more encouraging performances since his return.
It wasn’t so much that he scored 16 points (he’s had better scoring games since returning to the lineup), but he got a lot of those points with the kind of basketball moves we’ve seen him execute effectively when he was healthy.
For a Celtics team just days away from the start of the playoffs, having their best two-way player looking and playing the way he’s used to, is very encouraging. That’s why at a time when many teams are looking at ways to cut back their core guy’s minutes on the eve of the playoffs, Crowder’s actually trying to play as many minutes as possible down the stretch of the regular season.
“I’m able to play in longer spurts,” Crowder said. “These next two games are critical for me.”