Pandering has limits.
Sitting in the TD Garden Tuesday night, I didn’t think much of the pregame applause for Gordon Hayward. That’s all it was. When he was introduced after four straight players receiving boos, the crowd audibly cheered for Hayward. Nobody was yelling showers of praise Hayward’s way when he was drilling shots in the first quarter, four of his seven on the game, helping lead the Jazz to an early lead 12 minutes in.
It seemed appropriate. Cs fans did the same thing for Al Horford, then a member of the Hawks, before the three games played at the TD Garden in their April playoff series.
Jae Crowder did not think the same way at all, and it carried over to his play, perhaps his best performance of the season. He hit six of eight shots, including five of six from outside, in an offensive effort that helped pour 115 points on the top defense in the NBA.
Now let me preface what I’m about to say. Gordon Hayward is a better player than Jae Crowder, but Crowder was better than him on Tuesday night.
That being said, Crowder was actually right to be angry.
What Crowder has accomplished in a Cs uniform shouldn’t be undersold, and cheering for an opposing small forward to come to Boston is inherently undermining his role on the team. While his numbers haven’t matched Hayward’s, he’s filled a the three-and-defense role sensationally, signed a team-friendly contract, returned quickly from two significant ankle injuries and has been at the forefront of the fiery passion that has become part of the Celts’ style.
Hayward has been better than him this season but not substantially better.
For that, Crowder went on a heated Twitter rant over the subject of appreciation by Celts’ fans, even retweeting a Dallas fan who said he’d be loved back in a Mavs uniform. It was no small matter to Crowder.
A new era of Celtics basketball spawned from the terrible stretch of 2013-2014 when Crowder arrived. Now for the first time since, there seems to be legitimate unrest underneath the surface. Gary Washburn said it well: All while Crowder has been hustling for the Celtics, fans have been calling for a better wing. Meanwhile Crowder has continuously improved to the point where he’s shooting 41% on high volume three-point shooting which is no small feat.
Crowder has also played versatile roles defensively as well, sizing up to larger power forwards when called upon. His intensity has never wavered even when falling down the shot chart with the arrival of Horford.
It may not seem like a big deal to Celts fans who want to add talent to the team. It is understandable from Crowder’s perspective how a call for a player at his position could seem like a slight.
Jae Crowder hears when folks say #Celtics are All-Star caliber SF from being elite team. He was a 2nd-round pick, always has felt slighted.— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) January 4, 2017
This conversation also spawned another though into my head. Would Cs fans be clamoring for Hayward if it wasn’t for the Brad Stevens connection through Butler?
Hayward is fantastic, but for a player who is due to become one of the highest paid players in basketball with a rising cap and new CBA giving teams like Utah added ability to pay their players more to stay, does he push the needle? In fact, when compared to Crowder, who is still on a sensational contract at just over $7 million per season, the value comparison is day and night.
Statistically speaking, they’re similar players. If we get down to the nitty-gritty, Hayward may be better suited to outlet the ball, create his own shot, and shoot at higher volumes, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Celtics aren’t substantially better for all that money than they are with Crowder at small forward right now.
There’s also something to be said about the relentless motor and “me-against-the-world” attitude Crowder plays with. Evan Turner had that mindset too. Though some aren’t big on the idea of “confidence” influencing play, I do think when athletes reach a belief in themselves that they can compete with anybody, it does help them. The entire Celtics team has taken that approach these past few years.
All I’m saying is Crowder has a point. All we heard all summer is that Horford doesn’t push the team toward championship contention. Now Hayward in the place of Crowder does? I don’t see it.