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Jae Crowder delivers on a promise

Jae Crowder is quickly becoming the face of the grit and grind element of these new Celtics. His stat line against the Knicks last night doesn't jump off the page (17 points and 9 rebounds, shooting an inefficient 5-12 from the field), but he showed what it's going to take to get this team into the playoffs.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

After Wednesday's demoralizing loss to the undermanned Heat, Jae Crowder called his team's effort "sickening" and tweeted out this promise:

Days before that, he was channeling KG on his Instagram:

You put yourself in the same picture with Garnett posing the same pose, you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself, but on Friday night, Crowder delivered.  Again, it wasn't pretty.  Crowder got most of his looks in pick-and-pops with Isaiah Thomas, but he was only 2-for-8 from outside of the key.  He shoots only 36.6% from the mid-range, but his biggest strength has been his ability to take it to the rack.  After the game, Stevens said that "Jae has done a really good job shooting the ball and also driving it at appropriate times.  He draws contact on drives.  He's physical."

Here's a simple set from last night's game that got Crowder several attempts in the restricted area.  Note that it's not some elaborate ATO or X's & O's flash of brilliance from Stevens' chalkboard.  It's a quick action that creates a small crease for Crowder to take advantage of and he does it without abandon.

It starts with a simple pick-and-roll at the top of the key that doesn't involve Crowder at all.  Here, it's Evan Turner and Brandon Bass.  The Knicks retreat deep into the paint to protect against penetration.  However, that PnR draws three defenders, Andrea Bargnani, Cleanthony Early, and Crowder's defender, Lance Thomas.  Thomas shades over from Crowder to nudge Bass off his roll, but that's enough space for Turner to quickly swing the ball and Crowder to drive the lane hard.

Crowder Drive Bucket

In the third quarter, it's Marcus Smart working the pick and roll with Tyler Zeller.  Smart dribbles away from the Zeller screen.  He reads that Shane Larkin has already committed to help chip on the roll man, so Smart immediately swings the ball to Crowder.  Crowder never thinks three point shot.  With the smaller Larkin out of position, he's already got momentum when he catches the ball and uses one dribble to penetrate past him.  He misses the lay up, but it's that kind of aggressiveness that's been lacking in Boston's recent 1-4 slump.

Crowder miss

At the 3:11 mark of the fourth quarter, Stevens substituted Kelly Olynyk (who had shown some aggressiveness of his own) for Crowder with the team up 9 and looking to close out the game.  The Knicks were already in the penalty and all the Celtics needed to do was hit their free throws.

At first blush, Jae Crowder doesn't seem like the likely candidate in this situation. While his versatility on defense is a plus, he has a career 71.2% from the free throw line and he could be a liability on the offensive side of the ball.  But with only a five point lead with under two minutes to go, Stevens called two consecutive sets for Crowder with both times leading to free throws.

Even with the Knicks adjusting and not overplaying the Thomas-Bass pick and roll, Crowder takes advantage of Thomas' poor footwork and drives straight to the rim.

Crowder Foul 1

The ensuing possession, the same result.  Brian Scalabrine compared Crowder's drive to a running back hitting a small hole in his offensive line.

Crowder Foul 2

This was supposed to be what Jeff Green was supposed to do: use his athleticism and force the issue and at times, Green was the perfect complement and third option.  Green would be the beneficiary of other players breaking down the offense, giving him a clear path at the bucket.  However, he was wildly inconsistent with the Celtics in the aggressiveness department, but Crowder has filled his shoes suprisingly well.  In a role traditionally reserved for a team's superstar, Crowder has taken it upon himself to be the team's muscle and attack the paint with purpose.

More so, his impact can really be seen on the culture and attitude of the team.  He understands his place in terms of the history of the franchise, but also knows that he and the rest of his teammates have to blaze a new path of their own.  If you missed this's Deep Green look at the daily behind-the-scenes of the Boston Celtics, check it out:

It's easy to go on a Twitter rant about your team's performance, but to show up the next game and help close out on the road when the team isn't playing particularly well is hard.  It's accountability and so far, Crowder has delivered.

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