BOSTON – I feel like I’m moving faster than we thought.
Those were the words of Jae Crowder before the Celtics hosted the Oklahoma City Thunder for an ESPN Wednesday night marquee. After a rude awakening to their place in the NBA several shelves below top, the Celtics will hold on to those words for dear life.
Faster may not be fast enough.
Brad Stevens has tried throwing Marcus Smart at a pair of hall of fame 6’10" swingmen two nights in a row and it has proven to be insufficient. The Celtics had three steals against the Thunder and lost the fastbreak points race 14-4. Even the JV squad couldn’t get a fastbreak score during the entire fourth quarter.
Smart and Crowder’s defensive presence above the break is what forces teams into making mistakes, which is the Celtics’ bread and butter. Without either of them playing the trap game, the Celtics defense relied on its switching and interior presence. But those are two tasks at which it overachieves because of Crowder’s motor and footwork.
So they watched as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook buried shot after shot, combining for 52 points in 56 minuted. Isaiah Thomas’ 29 points epitomized the typical valiant effort he is known for, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
"They punked us. We played soft as tissue," Thomas said.. "That third quarter, they took advantage of every little thing they could have. With a good team like that, you can’t have that happen. So, whoever is playing, whether Jae’s out, Kelly’s back, they punked us. That was basically what it was. They were the tougher team, no question."
Although the Celtics held their own in the rebounding column for most of the night, the Thunder’s physical dominance was woefully apparent. Enes Kanter and Stevens Adams moved mountains while Durant and Westbrook took a cleaver to the Celtics’ zone defense.
Amir Johnson held up well against a flurry of bodies, contributing to Serge Ibaka’s mediocre night in the post while keeping the Celtics alive on offense with five offensive rebounds.
While the Celtics dealt with horrific timing, getting the two toughest matchups in the league for an undersized defender at the three – outside of LeBron James – the absence of their identity with Crowder going down is a red flag a month before the playoffs. There is plenty of time to recover from what should be an anomaly for a Stevens team, but the vulnerabilities that have always been under the surface are bubbling to the sky.
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How should the Celtics guard star wings with Crowder out?
This poll is closed
Stick with Smart
Stick with ET
Keep switching to different defenders
Give up and go home