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A healthy Jae Crowder on the horizon

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Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart deserve most of the headlines this morning, but it could be very soon that we see Jae Crowder returning to the spotlight.

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The Celtics had just won Brad Stevens' first playoff game behind 42 points by Isaiah Thomas and made their first round matchup with the Hawks a series again. What did Jae Crowder do to celebrate the victory? Hit Waltham at 1:30 in the morning for some jump shots.

By now, you've heard about Crowder's late night shooting practice after going 7 for 36 in the first three games of the series. Crowder has put his balky ankle around 70%, and while that's not an excuse (at least one Crowder isn't comfortable using), he hasn't looked the same offensively. He's seemed tentative to drive the ball and content on taking the mid-range jumper. On Friday, he made only one of his 11 shots (an above-the-break three on a Jared Sullinger kick out), but it's shots like these that give you a little hint that Crowder just isn't himself:

In the regular season, Crowder would be forcing the issue and trucking into the smaller Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver for the hoop and the harm, not settling for jumpers and driving away from contact.

On Sunday night, he put in a modest 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He made his first two threes of the game and helped the Celtics avoid a first quarter slump that had plagued them early in the series. It was a good sign that he had gotten out of his slump after his twilight visit to the Celtics' practice facility (despite missing his next seven shots from behind the arc). It's that gym rat mentality mixed with the confidence that his teammates and coach put into Crowder that could make him a candidate for a breakout performance this week:

"I'm going to keep shooting -- that's what I've done all year," Crowder said. "A slump is going to happen -- it's happening right now -- but I'll be fine."

"I believe in the law of averages and Jae's a good shooter," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "Jae's been a good shooter all year. I have not lost one iota of sleep over that, either. Keep shooting it. He's open, he's gonna be aggressive and we want him to be aggressive. He's a big reason why we're here."

That's really the key for Crowder: staying aggressive. Much has been made about the lineup change and going small, but for Crowder, it could actually allow him to play big. With Jonas Jerebko starting at the 4, Crowder has been checked a lot by Korver or Mike Scott. That should be a mismatch for the Marquette School of Hard Knocks product, and in Game 4, we saw a little of a healthier Crowder take advantage of his size.  Here's a depressing stat: the rough and tumble Crowder has 47 field goal attempts in the playoffs and 27 of them are 3's.  He's only made 5 triples and gone to the line 9 times.

I'd expect more of that moving forward. His teammates have stepped up in the last two wins at the Garden--a testament to the "we're one superstar" phrase that he coined--but don't be surprised if Crowder starts making a bigger impact in Game 5 and 6 and joins the spotlight. The more pressure the Celtics can put on the Hawks' interior defense, the better. Maybe he and Gronk can hit up Gillette before the team heads to Atlanta for a couple of runs through the gauntlet machine.