BOSTON – As Isaiah Thomas drove his way repeatedly into the heart of the Washington Wizards defense on Sunday, there were plenty of times when his driving lane soon became cluttered with a wall of bodies.
This forced him to make an on-the-fly adjustment and find a teammate who was open.
Usually that player was Jae Crowder.
And on Sunday, Crowder made the most of all those open looks as the Boston Celtics pulled away for a 123-111 Game 1 win over the Washington Wizards.
Crowder finished with a career playoff-high 24 points which included six 3-pointers which is also a playoff high. He shot 8-for-14 from the field which included him making seven of his 10 uncontested field goal attempts.
Game 2 of Boston’s best-of-seven playoff series with Washington will be Tuesday night at the TD Garden.
Thomas had another gutsy performance, brushing aside the personal pain he is dealing with just 24 hours after his baby sister’s funeral in Tacoma, Washington, to lead all scorers with 33 points while dishing out nine assists.
But it was Crowder who was the difference-maker in the pivotal third quarter which saw Boston pull ahead by as many as 15 points.
Of Crowder’s 24 points, 11 came during the third quarter when Boston outscored the Wizards 36-16.
It was a Crowder 3-pointer that gave Boston its first lead, 73-71, with 6:55 to play in the third quarter. After Washington tied the game up, Crowder once again drained a 3-pointer that made it a 76-73 game.
And it was Crowder’s 3-pointer with 2:24 to play in the third that gave Boston its first double-digit lead, 91-80.
“Jae was huge for us (on Sunday) making timely three’s and just all the other things he’s able to do on the court defensively,” said Boston’s Al Horford who had a near triple-double of 21 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. “Getting rebounds and hustling.”
Although he doesn’t get the kind of headlines that teammates Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford get, there’s no mistaking Crowder’s versatility as a scorer as well as a defender has been critical to Boston’s emergence this season as one of the top teams in the East.
“He’s a really important part of our team,” Stevens said. “The first time we played Washington we were without Jae and Al. That did not go well. And then Jae, to be able to guard multiple positions … but also get in and mix it up on rebounds and those type of things, those are critical.”
For Crowder, having a red-hot night shooting the ball was long overdue.
During the regular season, Crowder shot 46.3 percent from the field and 39.8 percent on 3’s.
But in the playoffs, Crowder’s shooting dipped to 40.9 percent from the field and just 27.3 percent on 3’s.
None of that mattered on Sunday as Crowder nailed one big shot after another in helping the Celtics open their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup against the Wizards with a victory.
“Shooters shoot,” Crowder said following the win. “I don’t worry about that aspect of me being in a slump or anything because I got to take those shots. My teammates believe in me and coaches believe in me, so I got to step up and make them. But I work a lot, so it's only a certain amount of time to hold a shooter down and I feel like it was just due for me to have a good game like that. Hopefully I can just carry off that and just carry the momentum and just keep going.”