Before unpacking and expanding this discussion to any real degree, let’s get this much on the record: Jae Crowder means a ton to the Boston Celtics.
The nuances of the debate are worth exploring at the edges, but the core of the matter can’t be denied: Crowder’s value to Brad Stevens as a wing defender and a steady contributing scorer with shooting range is rather immense.
The past week offers more than enough confirmation of this claim.
Friday night, the Celtics lost their fourth straight game, marking their worst patch of the entire season. The four games share this one five-alarm common thread: Crowder did not play or finish the fourth quarter in any of them.
One particularly salient detail about Friday’s 14-point loss in Toronto is that the Raptors weren’t entirely whole in their own right. Jonas Valanciunas, their big man, was out for yet another game. He — like Crowder — was recently injured and is trying to make his way back into the lineup so that the team can re-establish fluidity and normalcy in its lineup rotation before the playoffs begin. Yet, this didn’t bother Toronto nearly as much as Crowder’s absence hurt Boston.
It is unmistakably apparent that a Celtic roster bereft of superstars worked primarily because of Stevens’s ability to piece together a plan with his personnel groupings. The Celtics had just enough depth, just enough quality, and more than enough expertise from their coach to create a winning formula with what they had. As soon as Crowder left the equation this past week, however, everything changed.
The team lost one of its top defenders against elite scorers such as Paul George, Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan. All three played against — and defeated — Boston this past week. Crowder’s exit also meant that the Celtics had to scramble to find a replacement for his 32 minutes per game. With replacement parts trying to compensate for Crowder’s absence, the Celtics scored under 100 points a majority of the time (three of the four games Crowder didn’t finish).
Specifically in connection with the Toronto loss Friday night, one must add that the Raptors — while lacking depth in the frontcourt — were also playing the very end of a “4-in-5.” A team playing a fourth game in five nights should be weary heading down the stretch.
In the fourth quarter, Boston scored just 17 points and was outscored by nine.
The effects of the loss of one key cog — someone who was perfectly placed into a rotation and a larger plan of attack by Brad Stevens — have been as drastic as one could possibly imagine.
While the Celtics wait for Crowder to come back, this turn of events begs a question: Would Crowder be as valuable (read: Would his absence be as significant?) to other teams in the league? That’s the fascinating query to raise about the Marquette product. Would other coaches be able to maximize his talents as much? Would his skill set blend into other rosters and situations as seamlessly as they have in New England?
Rather than answer those questions right away, toss them around for a bit. As you do, consider what would be different if Crowder played on a team with fewer depth issues at the 3 spot.
After all, when Evan Turner — the man forced to take on part of the defensive workload Crowder left behind — was asked about his new role on the Celtics, he said, “Oh, sh**! I didn’t even think about that.”
If other teams had enough depth at the 3, would we be mentioning how valuable Jae Crowder is to that organization?
That might sound like an argument, and it’s reasonable to interpret it as such, but know that it’s not intended to be a firm claim about Crowder’s importance across the league. It’s more an affirmation of how much he means to this team, this roster, this organization, at a precarious point in the push for playoff positioning in the East.
The Boston Celtics and Brad Stevens have done remarkable work this season, pushing forward to the extent they have with the resources at their disposal. It really shouldn’t be all that surprising that as soon as a well-coached and properly-positioned core contributor was removed from the mix, the larger edifice crumbled.
This isn’t Humpty Dumpty — the Boston Celtics CAN be put back together again — but Jae Crowder needs to become healthy and whole as soon as realistically possible.