Jae Crowder, Celtics Find Clutch Gene In Big-Play Finish Against Jazz

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BOSTON — For the second time in as many games, the Celtics found themselves in a deadlock entering the fourth quarter. And for the second time, they emerged with a victory.

Boston trailed the Utah Jazz for much of Monday’s contest at TD Garden. After Shelvin Mack hit a 3-pointer to start the quarter, the C’s were down by four points against a stingy Utah defense.

But the Celtics found resolve down the stretch yet again, getting big plays in key moments on both ends of the floor to notch a 100-95 win and settle the score after the Jazz dealt them a blowout loss back on Feb. 19.

“They made great plays. We made great plays. It was a really good basketball game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Two very tough-minded teams on this given night, trying to win this game. Both teams playing very maturely.”

It was the Celtics who showed the most maturity down the stretch, however. After another Mack 3-pointer put the Jazz up by two points with 49 seconds remaining, Celtics swingman Jae Crowder responded with a clutch 3-pointer to put Boston back up by one.

“I’m just trying to make that play,” Crowder said. “(Monday night) it was a shot, and I just tried to step into it with confidence and make it.”

On the ensuing possession, it was the defense’s turn. The Jazz set up an isolation for star player Gordon Hayward on Avery Bradley, but the Celtics ballhawk swatted Hayward’s potential go-ahead jumper with 20 seconds to go.

In doing so, Bradley earned the ultimate praise from Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.

“It was big,” point guard Isaiah Thomas said of Bradley’s block. “We needed a stop. We know (Hayward is) their go-to guy down the stretch, and he got a stop for us. That was probably the biggest play of the game for us, other than Jae’s shot.”

But the Celtics still needed one more big play to seal the deal, and they got it in the form of Amir Johnson’s offensive rebound on Bradley’s missed free throw with 15 seconds remaining. Johnson kicked it back out to Bradley, who was fouled again and made both free throws to end Utah’s night.

“It was a heck of an execution game late,” Stevens added. “They were making plays, we were making plays, and we were just fortunate enough to get those two loose balls off the block and then off the free throw to kind of seal it.”

The Celtics’ late-game execution hasn’t always been pretty — remember Bradley’s crucial late foul in a one-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks? — but they’ve recently found ways to win in crunch time. For a team locked in a tight race in the Eastern Conference with lofty playoff aspirations, it’s a skill they’ll certainly need down the stretch.

Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images

Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) celebrates against the Utah Jazz during the second half at TD Garden.

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