During Thursday's game against the Boston Celtics, Carmelo Anthony had an off night. Superstars, which I still think he is, will have these kinds of games every so often. Anthony shot 4-18 for eight points in 31 minutes.
After the game he chalked up the poor performance to missed shots, but there is no doubt that Jae Crowder had something to do with that. Crowder got up in Anthony's air space and made him uncomfortable for most of the night. The two battled for position relentlessly and took it to each other on both ends of the floor.
Anthony and Crowder played a very physical preseason game of basketball on Thursday night, and it was Crowder's physicality that prevented Anthony from getting into any sort of a groove.
"Jae gives good effort on the defensive end of the floor against anybody he's guarding," Brad Stevens said after the game. "Carmelo is an excellent player. Carmelo will make some of those shots that he missed tonight. But Jae is a good defender and takes good pride in it and we need him to defend like that."
Crowder has proven to be a versatile defender who can use his strength to battle bigger players down low but still step out and stay with quicker wings. Last season Crowder was a key factor in winning a Feb. 27 matchup against the Charlotte Hornets when he shifted onto Al Jefferson in the fourth quarter and locked him down.
Crowder's combination of strength and athleticism has allowed him to blossom into a defensive threat on the perimeter. On most nights during the upcoming season, I expect to see him chasing around the opponent's top scoring option at the wing position. Anthony, when healthy, is one of the best scorers in the league and Crowder was able to stymie any rhythm that he was looking to find:
Most impressive Celtic on the night for me: Jae Crowder. Looks like a starting role for him. He's gonna be guarding superstar wings all year
One the offensive end, Brad Stevens will take what he can get from Crowder. He cuts well without the ball and is able to get to the charity stripe when he drives through the lane, clutching the ball like a fullback hitting a hole in the defensive line. If he can add some more consistency to his three-point shot, the Celtics may have their answer at small forward. As of right now though, Crowder is out their to rebound, score when the offense allows for it, and defend. Toscano says:
One thing is for sure: the tough defense he plays rubs off on his teammates out there.
"I gotta tip my hat off to Jae," Marcus Smart said. "Jae came off and kind of set the tempo right there with him pressuring [Anthony] and making [sure] every shot that he took and every shot that he made or missed was difficult. When you're going against somebody like that, every possession where you got to fight for yours, when you finally do get an open shot it's not as comfortable as it would be if you [could] just come down and everything was easy for you."
Can Crowder be a long-term solution at the small forward spot if he can morph into a competent "3-and-D" player?