Celtics Anticipate Difficult Stretch Without Crowder

WALTHAM, Mass. – The next couple of weeks will be a major test for the Boston Celtics, as they will continue their playoff push without the presence of Jae Crowder.

The starting forward sprained his right ankle on a drive to the rim during Friday’s loss to the Houston Rockets, and C’s coach Brad Stevens announced after Sunday’s practice that he will miss two weeks minimum.

Crowder has arguably been Boston’s most versatile defender this season. His ability to guard 3 through 5 enables the team to go small, though his absence may impact that strategy.

“We’re going to be quite a balancing act without him and we’re going to have to have guys step up and play,” said Stevens. “We’ll probably end up playing a little bit more traditional because of that.”

Crowder’s injury comes at a critical time considering Boston’s next three opponents. The C’s will have small forward battles against three All-Stars this coming week: Paul George on Tuesday, Kevin Durant on Wednesday and DeMar DeRozan on Friday.

“It’s a heck of a challenge when you look at our week ahead,” said Stevens. “That’s why long, athletic, versatile guys are in such demand in this league. We may be a little bit smaller at times at the 3 and we may be bigger than we’ve been at times at the 4. We’ll see how it all plays itself out, but we’ve got a lot of good players and it’s a great opportunity for them.

Stevens specified that the next couple of weeks will present a great opportunity for Boston’s young guards, R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier and James Young. He expects them to take on more pivotal roles during Crowder’s absence.

Young was recalled from the Maine Red Claws Sunday morning and Stevens said, “he shot the heck out of it” during practice. Rookies Hunter and Rozier have also been making strides lately.

“We’re going to need those guys to produce and to contribute to winning,” said Stevens. “That’s what they practice for, that’s why they lift, that’s why they go to Maine, and it’s why we have to depend on each other as a team.”

Evan Turner, who will also be heavily depended on during this trying period, says he’s confident that the young guns will be able to step up and deliver.

“I think they’ll probably be ready,” he said. “I mean, JY has been on ice for like two years, Terry had a great game the other night, R.J. is definitely capable, so I think in the NBA at the end of the day it’s just playing basketball, and they’ll be fine. It looked like they had a great day at practice today and it’ll be great for them.”

Kelly Olynyk, who has been out since the All-Star break with a shoulder injury, has also been making progress during recent practice sessions. His return would certainly aid Boston during this man-down situation, though he knows his presence would not completely fill Crowder’s void.

“He’s been playing great for us the whole year, both ends of the floor,” said Olynyk, who is aiming to return Tuesday night in Indiana. “He’s a tough person to fill by a single person, so we’re going to need a lot of guys to step up in his absence.”

Fortunately, the C’s have the depth and the attitude to move on without Crowder, but these next two weeks should prove to be quite a difficult test as they have an abundance of difficult matchups awaiting them.