The highly controversial return the Celtics received in the Rajon Rondo trade is still a touchy subject for some Celtics fans. The Mavericks sent a protected first rounder with Brandon Wright, Jameer Nelson, and Jae Crowder. Let's face it, the first round pick was the main cog in this blockbuster but at the time Wright was looked at as the key player in the deal that could help the C’s right away. However, after the dust has settled Jae Crowder is the one making the pain of losing Rondo a little less harsh.
Crowder has emerged as a key role player on a team that is fighting for the playoffs. He has ascended from an NBA nobody and Brad Stevens has turned this player into a hybrid 3/4 that is asked to play big time minutes. In this role, which seems to fit his game and tenacity perfectly, he has become a very valuable piece in the Celtics current and rebuilding plans.
Since January 1, Crowder has averaged 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds, and nearly a steal per contest. To put this into perspective, on the Mavericks, Crowder was only playing 10 minutes and scoring 3 points per game. He’s nearly doubled his averages across the board in the last two and half months with the Celtics. Most of his impact on the game though is not shown on the stat sheet. He is a very talented defender and he is asked to guard multiple positions, whether it be on the wing or down low. His numbers may not be eye popping, but his individual performances are. He had a 17 rebound game vs Golden State, and Wednesday night against Utah he was one of the most consistent players on the court.
Crowder started the third quarter and that change really paid dividends for the Celtics in Wednesday's win over the Jazz. It was Crowder who was called upon as the number two offensive option in a tight game down the stretch. Crowder, along with Isaiah Thomas, were asked to carry the offensive load to close out the game. With under five minutes to play, Crowder sparked the C’s with five straight points and then handed the baton to Thomas to keep the pace with the surging Jazz. In a game that was huge for the Celtics playoff hopes, he was the second leading scorer on the night with 18 points, 13 of those coming in the second half.
In Brad Stevens' matchup eccentric system, there is a huge need for a versatile wing that can also hold his own down low. Recently, Crowder has excelled in this role which allows Stevens to have a lot of flexibility with his lineups. If Crowder can continue to produce, his minutes will increase and I would not be surprised to see him inserted as a starter again.
It’s no secret that the Celtics may be over matched in talent on most nights, but Crowder’s grit, intensity, and tenacity keep them in mostly every game and it's starting to become contagious.
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