BOSTON -- There will be varied points throughout the season when the Boston Celtics will go with a “small ball” lineup to try and counter an opposing team’s size.
But those times may be fewer and farther between, based on some of the additions made by the Celtics in the frontcourt.
The free-agent signings of 6-foot-9 big men Amir Johnson and David Lee has given the Celtics the kind of 1-2 punch in the frontcourt Brad Stevens has yet to have as Boston’s head coach.
You can count Jae Crowder among those who believes the team’s newest additions will go far in helping the Celtics in a multitude of areas -- especially defense.
“Those guys, those bodies are something that every team needs,” Crowder said on SiriusXM NBA Radio, hosted by Jeff Rickard and Antonio Davis. “As the course of the season wears on, you need those bodies.”
Look no further than Boston being on the short end of a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs to Cleveland, a series in which the Cavs never lost the rebounding war in any game and finished with a 6.3 rebound-per-game advantage.
There’s no way to know if having Johnson and Lee would have made much of a difference in Boston’s playoff series with Cleveland, but at the very least it would have allowed Boston to be more competitive not only on the boards but also defensively.
Part of Cleveland’s board work involved the Cavs having success on the offensive glass, which created multiple scoring opportunities for Cleveland. That was the last thing the Celtics could afford to happen with such consistency.
“With us getting those guys this summer, it really helped our defense more so than offense,” Crowder said. “Having those bodies to rebound and put more bodies in the game on opposing team bigs, is big for us. We didn’t have that depth last year.”
Indeed, both players provide some much-needed frontcourt depth, but it's the addition of Johnson that should provide tangible signs of improved play defensively.
The plus/minus per 100 possessions for Johnson throughout his career has been positive in 8 of his 10 NBA seasons. As far as being a rim protector, Johnson isn’t necessarily a major shot-blocking or shot-altering presence. However, he is known for being a solid positional defender who isn’t afraid to lay a hard foul or two on an opponent if it prevents them from getting an easy score. He's ranked in the NBA’s top seven in fouls committed four of the last five seasons, which includes a league-high 301 fouls committed during the 2013-2014 season.
Look for him to bring a similar brand of basketball to a Celtics team that far too often allowed teams a relatively clear path to the basket once they got past an initial defender and into the lane.
While it’s important to learn from the past, don’t expect Crowder or any of his teammates to dwell too much on what happened last season.
Crowder is well aware the Celtics have a lot of work ahead to be considered among the Eastern Conference’s elite, but there is a noticeable optimism about this upcoming season as they look ahead to training camp with a different cast of characters and to some extent, a different set of expectations.
After coming to Boston in December as part of the Rajon Rondo trade, Crowder became a key part of the Celtics’ late season surge into the playoffs. He was rewarded earlier this week with a five-year, $35 million contract.
While the goal last season was simply playing their way into the playoffs which they did, the bar has to be set higher this season for the Celtics.
“The one thing I feel like we should be focused on is winning a playoff game . . . winning playoff games and winning series,” Crowder said.
Well aware of this franchise’s success in the past, Crowder makes no secret about his focus is to eventually be part of the Celtics team that brings home Banner 18.
“The only way we get there is to win playoff games,” he said.