Boston Celtics: 2014Game22
"No," Crawford said. "If it was my choice, I would have played last year."
Maybe no player has been more of a revelation this season than Crawford, who has gotten an opportunity to play first-unit point guard as Rajon Rondo rehabs from ACL surgery and has used it to cement himself as one of Boston's key contributors this season. During last year's first-round playoff series against the Knicks, Crawford played sparingly and only drew headlines for barking at Carmelo Anthony after Boston's Game 5 win.
Back at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Crawford scored a team-best 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting and made six 3-pointers as part of Boston's 114-73 dismantling of the Knicks. Crawford added seven assists, three rebounds and didn't turn the ball over in 31 minutes of floor time. He was plus-38 in plus/minus for the game.
Over Boston's last eight contests -- a span in which the Celtics have posted a 6-2 mark -- Crawford is averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds over 33.6 minutes per game. What's more, Crawford is producing that output on only 12.3 shots per game, shedding his reputation as a volume scorer with bad shot selection.
"He’s playing well," coach Brad Stevens said. "I’ve seen Jordan and all the scoring doesn’t surprise me -- he’s always been really good at it, he’s always been a tough-shot maker. I think the best part about it is he’s picking his spots extremely well and he’s defending extremely well. This is not about guys, what they could do yesterday or what they’ve done in the past. It’s about what you can do to better improve yourself and he’s done a really good job of just getting better and really embracing that."
The lingering question with Crawford is how Stevens will find minutes for him when Rondo is healthy enough to return to the lineup. Ideally for Boston, Crawford can settle in as a second-unit combo guard, maybe chipping away at the minutes being played by undrafted rookie point guard Phil Pressey as he develops at the NBA level. Can Crawford maintain his production playing less consistent minutes with the second unit? That remains to be seen.
With Rondo not expected back until January, it's not something Stevens has to worry about right now. Unlike last season, Crawford is going to get plenty of opportunity to thrive on the floor and he's taking full advantage at the moment.
[Note: For more on Crawford's emergence this season, hop HERE]
Some other leftovers from Sunday's game:
- BRADLEY'S DOUBLE-DOUBLE: Avery Bradley recorded the first double-double of his four-year career during Sunday's win while putting up 13 points and 10 rebounds over 28:24. Bradley admitted he's been trying to improve his work on the glass in order to help Boston's bigs. "It’s been a focus for me because I know my team needs me to do it, especially not having Rondo," Bradley said. "We’re not the tallest team, so they need the guards to help. That’s what I’ve been trying to do every game. I just need to be more consistent with it." Bradley's defensive rebound rate through Boston's first 17 games was a mere 10.4 percent (one of the lowest on the team among regulars). But over the last five games, it's bounced up to 12.4 percent (for comparison, Rondo's career defensive rebound rate is 12 percent).
- C'S NOT CONTENT: The Celtics are playing some really inspired ball the past two weeks and Sunday was maybe their most complete effort of the season. But they refuse to celebrate. "We’re not content with where we are at," said Jeff Green, who scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and was plus-42 overall. "We have some things that we can get better at as far as communication, our defensive schemes, and offensively. ... There’s some things that we can get better at. We enjoy a win like this, yes, but we still have some room to improve and that’s what we need to do [Monday at practice]."
- LOOSE BALLS: Boston's bench will get overlooked amid the gaudy numbers put up by the starters, but Courtney Lee had a very steady afternoon. He scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting over 19:36 and played excellent defense at the other end. ... Gerald Wallace didn't put up a shot over 21:22. This is the third game this season that he hasn't attempt a single field goal in at least 21 minutes of play. Wallace chipped in three rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block on Sunday. ... Pressey missed three shots in Sunday's game. He hasn't made a field goal since Nov. 25, a span of six games and 63 minutes of floor time. He's still a steadying presence at backup point guard despite the lack of offensive output.
NEW YORK -- Rapid Reaction after the Boston Celtics
THE NITTY GRITTY
Jordan Crawford scored a team-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting (connecting on six 3-pointers) while Jared Sullinger added 21 points on efficient 9-of-13 shooting and was a team-best plus-43 in plus/minus. Avery Bradley added his first career double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds), while Jeff Green and Brandon Bass kicked in 16 points apiece as the first-place Celtics cruised. Carmelo Anthony scored a team-high 19 points for the Knicks, but was a team-worst minus-40 in plus/minus. Just check out the final box score for the full carnage.
The Celtics scored the game's first 12 points and 18 of the first 19 before New York generated its first field goal (an Anthony dunk with 5:45 to play in the frame). Boston pushed its lead as high as 25 before the end of the quarter and led 34-11 after 12 minutes. Boston shot 54.5 percent in the frame, including 71.4 percent beyond the 3-point arc (5 of 7 overall). The Knicks didn't even score five first-quarter field goals, finishing 4-of-18 shooting (22.2 percent) with four turnovers. Things only got worse from there for the hosts.
Typically mild-mannered Bass got tagged with a rare technical foul late in the third quarter after barking at an official for no whistle as he muscled in a putback in traffic. The Boston bench couldn't help but chuckle. The Celtics were up 37 at that point.
Courtney Lee had an excellent game off the bench, scoring 10 points over 19:36. ... MarShon Brooks played the final six minutes, scoring six points. ... Keith Bogans was a healthy DNP. ... On the first possession after checking in for the first time, Amare Stoudemire got whistled for a technical for poking Brandon Bass in the face on a shot attempt.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (10-12) have won three straight and now own a two-game lead in the Atlantic Division (pending how the Raptors fare against a returning Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers). This one was never close. Boston now heads across the city to dance with old friend Kevin Garnett and the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
"I do, I’ve always liked them," said Stevens. "We haven’t had one yet here with our team, but I personally like them because usually you’re done with your preparations by now, anyways, and you’re just waiting the day out getting ready to play. Then you’ve got a late turnaround to what’s next. So hopefully we can play well, and then move on to what’s next a little bit earlier in the day."
Stevens also happens to have fond memories of this arena. Oh sure, Butler lost to Georgetown in the Jimmy V Classic a couple years back, but Stevens noted that Butler winning the preseason NIT here in his final year as an assistant at Butler was an all-timer. "We beat Tennessee and Gonzaga and that was great, one of my fondest memories in coaching to be honest," he said.
A couple other notes before tip-off:
- KNICKS HAVE FOUND THEIR WAY: Stevens has often noted how he always prepares for a team's A-game and he's honest when he gushes about the Knicks' recent play despite a bumpy start. "It’s hard to adjust to playing without [Tyson] Chandler, initially, [but] they’ve done that now," said Stevens. "They are playing [Andrea] Bargnani at the 5 a lot and that’s a problem. It seems like they’ve found their way. And when they were losing, they weren’t losing by a lot. They were losing a lot of close games against good teams. To me, I understand the record and that’s how they are going to be evaluated because we’re in that business. To me, they’ve looked like a a good basketball team and now they look like a really good team."
- HARDAWAY JR. IN STARTING 5: With Kenyon Martin (sore left ankle) out, the Knicks are starting Tim Hardaway Jr. That means Carmelo Anthony will spend more time at the 4 (likely meaning more time matched up with Brandon Bass after the two often jousted in last year's playoffs). New York's other starters: Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, and Bargnani.
- RIVALRY RENEWED: Disregard the records, particularly New York's early struggles. The Celtics and Knicks still have plenty of history and, after New York ousted Boston from the first-round of the playoffs last season, Avery Bradley said he wouldn't mind a little revenge. "The Knicks have always been a team that we got to battle with," said Bradley. "We definitely got a nasty taste in our mouth from the playoffs last year. We kinda feel like they kinda embarrassed us a little bit. I feel like [Sunday] is going to be a chance to get a little payback."
- SLOWING MELO: Naturally, Carmelo Anthony is a focal point entering the matchup. As Gerald Wallace noted, "He has the ultimate green light. He’s able to pull-up and he’s a very good shooter. He’s probably the best scorer in the league. And he has the ball in his hands probably 95 percent of the time and is always looking to pull the trigger, as we call it. He’s ready for his shot. so you’ve always got to be on guard with him. There’s no relaxing or taking a minute off when you’re guarding Carmelo." The more interesting aspect to watch might be how Boston's guards handle New York's ball-handlers. Bradley struggled with Raymond Felton last season and the Celtics have to prevent the dribble penetration that plagued them in last year's playoffs.
- OPPORTUNITY TO ATTACK: Tyson Chandler is out after breaking a bone in his right leg last month. Without one of the top defenders and rim protectors in the league, the Celtics know there's an opportunity to attack the basket. "I know they’re a lot different defensively, especially with Tyson out," said Wallace. "He’s been their anchor. He’s been their main guy. He kind of holds their defense together at the rim. I think with him out, one of the best shot-blockers in the league, then their defense is kind of suspect inside. That’s just me." Can Boston's undersized frontcourt take advantage of Chandler's absence?
- WHAT ELSE?: Wallace admitted noon start times can mess with NBA players. He suggested it's important to jump on an opponent in a matinee meeting. ... Bradley made special note of Timothy Hardaway Jr., who had one big preseason effort against the Celtics and has been one of the league's most efficient offensive players this season. He averages 1.143 points per possession, which ranks in the 97th percentile among all league players, according to Synergy Sports.
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