Crowder's shooting makes a big difference for Celtics in pivotal third quarter

Crowder's shooting makes a big difference for Celtics in pivotal third quarter

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.”

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”