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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Agent doesn't expect Gordon Hayward to return this season, but foresees full recovery

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Agent doesn't expect Gordon Hayward to return this season, but foresees full recovery

PHILADELPHIA --  Only hours removed from surgery to repair a dislocated left ankle and fractured fibia injury, Gordon Hayward’s agent tells NBC Sports Boston that his client is already attacking the rehab process.
 
“We expect him to have a full recovery,” agent Mark Bartelstein said via phone Thursday.
 
That said, Bartelstein also noted that it’s unlikely that the 6-foot-8 forward will return to action this season.
 
“We don’t have a timetable or anything like that for him,” Bartelstein said. “It’s about getting better, healthier every day.”
 
The Celtics released a statement Thursday afternoon indicating Hayward underwent successful “bony and ligamentous stabilization surgery for the fracture dislocation of his left ankle.”
 
Performing the surgery was Drs. Mark Slovenkai and Brian McKeon at New England Baptist Hospital, with Dr. Anthony Schena assisting followed by consultations with Dr. David Porter of Methodist Sports Medicine in Indianapolis.
 
Hayward suffered the injury in the first quarter of Boston’s 102-99 loss at Cleveland on Tuesday when he was attempting to catch a lob pass from Kyrie Irving.
 
On the play, Hayward landed awkwardly on his ankle, which contorted in a way where it was clear immediately that he would be out of action for a significant amount of time.
 
Since the injury, Hayward has received an amazing amount of outpouring of well-wishes and prayers from Kobe Bryant, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and a cast of other current and former athletes. Both Edelman and Gronkowski know all too well about the challenges associated with returning to play after an injury.
 
"Go into rehab just like you go into anything else: dominate it," Gronkowski said. "Come back when you feel ready. Come back when you’re 100 percent. He wouldn’t be where he is now if he wasn’t a hard worker.”
 
And then there are the Celtics fans, whose support has been impressive.
 
Hayward delivered a pre-recorded message to the fans at the TD Garden that was aired on the Jumbotron high above half court prior to Wednesday night’s game against Milwaukee. Even after the video ended, there was no escaping Hayward’s presence was still very much in the building and on the minds of fans.
 
At one point in the 108-100 Celtics loss on Wednesday, Boston fans began a “Gor-don Hay-ward!” chant that soon swept its way throughout the TD Garden.
 
“It has been a bit overwhelming the amount of support that Gordon has received,” Bartelstein said. “It touched him in so many ways. The outpouring he got, certainly all the fans in the arena last night, from players around the league … it meant the world to him. And obviously, going through something like this, it’s devastating. So, to see so many reach out to him, it means the world to him and his family; there’s no doubt about it.”