Celtics

Replacing Thomas' and Crowder's grit and temperament won't be easy for Celtics

Replacing Thomas' and Crowder's grit and temperament won't be easy for Celtics

BOSTON -- Only a couple months separated Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas’ arrival in Boston in 2014-15. They were two solid players, but it wasn't thought they'd do anything more than help the Celtics be competitive in what everyone anticipated would be a second straight playoff-less season.

And then came Thomas’ emergence as an All-Star caliber scorer, which coincided with Crowder blossoming into a promising 3-and-D player. Not only did the Celtics make the playoffs that season but, barely two years after they joined them, the C's advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Their play was instrumental in the Celts' improvement, which made them attractive trade targets. So when the Celtics had the chance to acquire Kyrie Irving, Thomas and Crowder were part of the package they sent to Cleveland.

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Filling the void Thomas and Crowder left in terms of their statistics won’t be easy. But it's doable, what with a roster that now includes Irving, All-Star Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and blossoming young talent like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Not to mention Marcus Smart.

However, replacing Crowder's and Thomas’ toughness and their us-against-the-world grit and temperament will be challenging.

Their impact shortly after arriving in Boston was undeniable.

Crowder, who came via a trade from Dallas that centered around getting Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks, eventually worked his way into the starting lineup. He was a key cog in Boston’s 30-28 finish in 2014-15.

Thomas didn’t get to Boston until the middle of February via a trade with the Phoenix Suns. But his instant scoring -- first off the bench and later as a starter -- helped spark the C's to 20 wins in their last 30 games.
 
That success seemed to do more than just rejuvenate the Celtics and get them on a winning track. It also provided a major jolt to both players' careers, which up to that point had not really taken off. 

Some of the most memorable moments in Boston's rise to contender status came about because of Thomas and Crowder.

On the eve of getting swept in the first round of the playoffs by Cleveland in 2015, Crowder ratcheted up his defensive pressure on LeBron James in Game 4, endearing him to the Celtics faithful. But his night ended early at the hands of a J.R. Smith blow to the face that came after a hard pick set by former Celtic Kendrick Perkins.

And Thomas?
 
Who can forget his gutsy performances this past season, with the playoffs starting just hours after the tragic death of his younger sister?

Thomas forged ahead, delivering one memorable performance after another.

And shortly after her burial, Thomas -- playing despite having a tooth knocked out and several others needing to be fixed -- delivered a performance for the ages, scoring a playoff career-high 53 points in leading the Celtics to a Game 2 overtime win against the Washington Wizards.

Now they hope to bring that same level of toughness and grit to the Cavaliers by doing what they did in Boston -- proving their naysayers wrong.

Both recalled hearing a lot of talk when they arrived about how the Celtics were looking to “tank” games that season.

“We [were] like, ‘What’s that? Lose on purpose? That’s not going to happen,' ,” Crowder said. “So from that point on we clicked and we knew we were on the same page with basketball. And from that point, the rest is history.”
 
An underdog mindset is tough to manufacture when one of your teammates is LeBron James. But because of all the new pieces surrounding James, there's a sense the Cavs might have some early bumps in the road . . . such as Thomas’ hip injury, which is expected to keep him sidelined at the start of the season.

“I’ve been in situations before were things have been a little tough and we haven’t had the best players and we just kept fighting and worked with what we had,” Thomas said. “But, I mean, being put in this situation on the court is everything. To play with the best player in the world, play with a guy like Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose and to be coached by a guy like Tyronn Lue who’s been in this league for a long time, it’s like . . . It’s like a match made in heaven.

"It’s a scary thing if everything is able to click with the guys we have coming in and guys we have on this team. I’m excited and I can’t wait to get going.”

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Gordon Hayward will start traveling with Celtics in March

Gordon Hayward will start traveling with Celtics in March

LOS ANGELES – The Boston Celtics have made a point of trying to change up Gordon Hayward’s rehabilitation routine as to avoid the boredom that’s often associated with the recovery process from a long-term injury such as his.

How about a few days in Southern California?

Hayward is with the team here in Los Angeles, and will stay behind for a few days afterward according to head coach Brad Stevens.

“One of the things we wanted to do was change his environment,” said Stevens who added that Hayward may begin traveling with the team in March. “So, he’s going to be here for these two games, and he will stay here in Southern California for a week to 10 days with a couple of our staff and re-join us in Boston.”

The key to him re-joining the team for road games hinges on whether he can do is rehabilitation work without the need for an ultra-gravity (Ultra-G) machine which he has been using.

Stevens later explained why the team felt the need to try and switch up Hayward’s regimen.

“People that have been through this, you know, long process ... One of the things about us, we’re jumping on a plane every four or five days,” said Stevens who added that Hayward still has “a long way to go” before returning to play in an actual game. “And he’s used to that and he has been in the same routine doing the same thing for three or four months without that. So, we just wanted to have him here for a couple games while we’re out West and for a few days later, leave him out here.”

Al Horford is among the Celtics eager to have Hayward join the team on road games, even if his timeline for returning to action is still targeted for next season.

“We’re happy, anytime, for Gordon to be around us,” Horford said. “For him, it’s his process to getting back to where he needs to be. Obviously, we’re respectful of that. But any chance that he gets around us, it’s good to share with him. He’s still a part of this. That’s the cool thing about it.”

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Al Horford joins Kyrie Irving at the all-star game, selected as reserve

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Al Horford joins Kyrie Irving at the all-star game, selected as reserve

LOS ANGELES – Kyrie Irving won’t be all by his lonesome during all-star weekend next month, with teammate Al Horford being selected as an all-star reserve.

For Horford, this will be his fifth all-star selection but first as a member of the Boston Celtics after joining the team in 2016.

Horford’s play, particularly on defense, has been instrumental to the Celtics (34-13) having the best record in the Eastern Conference, and third overall in the NBA.

This season, he has averaged 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting a career-best 43 percent from 3-point range.

Horford’s numbers don’t always speak to his impact on teams and more important, winning games.

“He’s a big part of our team in order for us to be number one in the East and hopefully sustain that spot,” Irving said earlier today. “We know how valuable he is. The Celtics organization, our team, everybody. He definitely has a case; he’s got my vote.”

Horford is grateful and appreciative of being named an all-star.

But his focus, as you might expect, is on what he views as a much more significant prize – a victory tonight which would snap Boston’s season-long losing streak which stands at three straight.

Horford is more concerned about the Celtics setting the tone defensively tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“That has to be our mindset,” he said. “And sticking together. So this is a great time for us to make sure we’re together and we do it as a group.”

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