Jae Crowder suffered a high ankle sprain in the Celtics’ loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday night, and is expected to miss a minimum of two weeks. While the injury shouldn’t have any long term effects on Crowder, it could have some long term effects on the Celtics. Crowder is an elite defender in the NBA and can shut down opposing teams’ key offensive weapons. Along with his stellar defense, he has become a much better offensive player than we’ve seen in the past. After being traded to Boston last season from the Dallas Mavericks, Crowder averaged 9.5 points per game. This season he is averaging a career high 14.4 ppg. The Celtics play Tuesday night in Indiana against the Pacers, Wednesday at home against the Thunder, and on the road against the Raptors on Friday night. These are three games that should not be taken lightly.
Let’s first look at the game against the Pacers. The guy opposing teams need to look out for on the Pacers is Paul George. George missed most of last season after sustaining a horrific lower leg injury the prior summer playing for Team USA. Now he’s back and looking like he did before the injury, averaging 23.3 points per game. The Celtics lead the season series 2-1, holding the Pacers to 100 points or less in each of the three games. But that could certainly change with the absence of Crowder. Crowder is a key defender for the Celtics, always playing with outstanding heart and hustle, and would be matched up against Paul George in tonight’s game if he were able to play. Now, the Celtics will be leaning on Evan Turner to slow down George. Turner looked lost on Friday night covering James Harden, as Harden put up 32 of the Rockets’ 102 points. Without Crowder to keep Paul George at bay, I believe the 7th seed Pacers will beat the 3rd seed Celtics in this game.
The Celtics will then look to win a game at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Oklahoma City’s record is 44-22 and are currently in 3rd place in the superior Western Conference. The Thunder are a tough team to handle with their two super stars in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Westbrook is head and shoulders above all other point guards in the NBA when it comes to shear speed and strength. He has the ability to take the ball to the rim in both the half court offense and in transition. However, with an elite perimeter defender in Avery Bradley and a defender coming into his own in Marcus Smart, the Celtics may just be able to slow down Westbrook enough to get the win.
But, oh wait. You still have to slow down Kevin Durant. Durant is another player that could be kept at bay with the defensive play of Jae Crowder. Avery Bradley is a candidate to cover Durant during Crowder’s absence, but Durant at 6’9” is much taller than the 6’2” Bradley, and could score easily in the post and could use his length to get shots off over Bradley in the mid-range game. This means that we will again turn to Evan Turner to cover the former MVP, Kevin Durant. I don’t have confidence in Turner covering Paul George, so I sure as hell don’t have faith in him covering Durant, who is pretty much just a better Paul George. Durant is averaging 28.1 ppg this season and I think we can count on him to put up more than that against the Celtics this Wednesday without Crowder in the rotation.
And now we’re on to Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are 2nd in the Eastern Conference, currently sitting 6.5 games better than the 3rd place Celtics. The Raptors are led by emerging superstar, DeMar DeRozan, who averages 23.3 ppg this season and a little over 30 ppg this month. DeRozan, at 6’7”, would be a good matchup for the Celtics’ D if Jae Crowder was playing. Are you seeing a theme here? Again, Avery Bradley is too small to cover DeRozan so we’re looking at Turner to take on the challenge. Turner, while still not a bad defender, just doesn’t have the size that Crowder does. And while you’ll see players on the Boston Celtics team showing tremendous hustle, I don’t know if anyone other than Bradley comes even close to the hustle that Crowder plays with. I’d put this down as another “L” on the Celtics’ upcoming schedule.
After the game in Toronto, the Celtics travel to Philadelphia to play the joke of the team that is the 76ers. This should be a win for the C’s no matter who is on the court. Then they will see the Magic at home, which I would expect another win from. But then the schedule picks up again. Before Crowder comes back, the Celtics will play the Raptors again, the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and possibly the potential best team in NBA history in the Golden State Warriors. Though playing the Warriors at home is an automatic loss for any team, I’d be confident in all these other games with a healthy Crowder. Crowder has become a valuable asset to the Celtics. His improvements with the three-ball and overall offensive production this year are great for a Celtics fan to see. And as always, his defense is one of the best in the NBA. Celtics fans should expect to lose some games in his absence and possibly drop in the Eastern Conference standings. There are three teams all within a 1.5 games of the 3 spot in the East. If the Celtics can’t hold it together without Crowder, don’t be surprised to see them head into the playoffs as a 5, 6 or maybe even 7 seed, rather than the 3rd.