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Boston and Atlanta are two of the top eight teams in the NBA regarding pace of play, but typically, things slow down in the postseason.

The intensity ratchets up a notch. Every possession becomes crucial. In a series against a Hawks team that ranks second in the league in defensive efficiency (98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). that becomes especially so.

So as the games are exclusive played in the half-court, Jae Crowder returning to form takes the utmost importance.



In his first full season in Boston, Crowder enjoyed the best year of his young career. Considered just a throw-in in the Rajon Rondo deal, Crowder has garnered attention for a potential All-Defensive Team selection and is a candidate for the Most Improved Player award after averaging 14.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

However. Crowder's shooting has dipped since returning from a sprained right ankle injury suffered against Houston on March 11th. Crowder has shot 37.7 percent from the field in his seven games since his return. In the 63 games prior to the injury, Crowder shot 44.9 percent from the field.  At a closer look reveals a more troubling stat regarding this stretch.

According to NBA.com, Crowder ranks ninth in the NBA on points on spot up shots, scoring 337 points, but again there's a wide gap between his performance pre and post injury. He has shot just 25 percent on catch and shoot opportunities since returning compared to 39.3 percent prior. When accounting for the increase value of the three-pointer, his eFG percentage drops from 54.4 percent to 43.5 percent.

Boston has been a middle of the pack offensive team all season. Despite their depth, the brunt of their scoring falls on Isaiah Thomas' shoulders. Thomas will get most of Atlanta's attention, putting a greater emphasis on Crowder knocking down shots. He could not only give the Celtics reliable scoring option, but open up the driving lane for Thomas to create and finish.

For better or worse, Crowder may be a difference maker in this series.

On Friday, Crowder appeared on the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz on ESPN Radio. While he declined to answer if he forgave J.R. Smith for causing his series-ending injury last year, he discussed how adopted his rugged basketball style, how his family is his biggest critics, his toughest players to defend and the Celtics' expectations leading into the season.

"We came [into the season] with a little of vengeance from last year," Crowder said. "We didn't like the way went out last year. We just came back and worked harder to put ourselves in position to succeed."

Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Follow Patrick on Twitter at @PatBernadeau

Patrick Bernadeau 4/16/2016 02:05:00 AM Edit
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