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WALTHAM, Mass. – The prospect of defending LeBron James is one that would make many foes shake in their sneakers.
For Jae Crowder, however, it’s quite the opposite.
Boston’s fearless forward said prior to Monday’s practice that he revels every opportunity he gets to play against the 11-time All-Star. He'll have another chance on Tuesday night when the C’s host James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden.
“He’s one of the best scorers in our league and you’ve gotta be up for the challenge,” said Crowder. “I certainly am.”
This is the first time the Celtics have seen Cleveland since it bounced them out of the first round of last year’s Playoffs. That series was monumental for Crowder, as he earned well-deserved attention for his tenacious approach against James, and gained valuable knowledge about his tendencies in the process.
“I played a series against him,” said Crowder, “so I know a little bit about what he likes to do and what blocks he likes to work from and what isos he likes to do.”
Crowder added that it’s not a job he can do on his own, however. “With that guy it’s gotta be a team effort,” he said.
“I think every guy on this team is certainly up for the challenge… we’ve just gotta be ready every possession because he can get it going at any time.”
While Crowder is Boston’s best individual option to match up against James, C’s coach Brad Stevens agreed that he can’t take on the responsibility alone.
“I don’t think anybody can do it by themselves,” said Stevens. “When you talk about guarding LeBron, you talk about it in the same terms as guarding [Stephen] Curry; you have to do it, but with a community.”
So, how does a team go about defending a freight train of a player like James?
“Just make it tough on him,” said Crowder. “Throw a lot of different looks on him on pick-and-rolls and try to keep him off balance as much as possible.”
Boston did an admirable job keeping James off balance during the playoffs last season. In fact, it was possibly its best overall postseason defensive effort against him, as the C's held him to 31 points or fewer during each game of the series. Not even Boston’s Big 3 was able to accomplish that feat during any of its four postseason series against James.
Unfortunately, that was not enough to stop Cleveland as a unit. Boston did, however, put up one heck of a fight, holding Cleveland to three single-digit victories to close out the series.
Because of that difficult playoff exit, Crowder says he’s taken an “unfinished business” approach ever since.
“I’ve taken [that approach] into this whole year, not even just [Tuesday’s] game,” said Crowder. “The whole year [feels like] unfinished business because I feel like we’ve gotta get back to where we were last year and surpass that point.”
First, however, Boston must tackle the business in front of it. Tuesday’s game marks the C’s third marquee matchup in a span of five days. They lost a double-overtime barn burner to the then-undefeated Warriors Friday night, then won a nail-biter against the red-hot Hornets on Saturday. Things will not get any easier against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
“It just keeps coming,” Crowder said with a grin. “We just played Steph Curry which is one of the best scorers in our league and now we got LeBron. We just gotta be up for the challenge as a team.”
The Celtics haven’t backed down from a challenge yet this season, and if last year’s postseason matchup serves as any indication, there’s no reason to believe they’ll back down in the least bit against James and the Cavs Tuesday night.