It took Jae Crowder all of 53 seconds to find his groove.
The Boston Celtics forward finally returned to action Thursday night after missing eight games due to a high ankle sprain. And on just the third possession of the game, Crowder did what he does best, picking the pocket of Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless and finding Isaiah Thomas for a 3-pointer to get the Celtics on the board.
In an otherwise disappointing night for Boston, Crowder was a bright spot, racking up 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game action since March 11. The 25-year-old showed some expected rust — he went just 2-for-8 from 3-point range — but otherwise looked like the energetic two-way player who’s been vital to Boston’s success this season.
“He showed signs of what he does,” Thomas said in a postgame interview aired on CSN New England. “It’ll probably take a couple games for him to get back to his full strength, but (we’re) just glad to have him back in the routine. Just sucks we couldn’t get the win for him.”
Crowder is hoping he can build on Thursday’s effort when the Celtics face off Friday against the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors. But he might have to do some extra persuading of Brad Stevens, who said earlier Thursday he didn’t want to play his swingman both nights of Boston’s back-to-back.
Crowder had his ankle heavily wrapped after Thursday’s loss as the team prepared to fly to Oakland and said he was ready to play through the pain against Golden State, per MassLive.com’s Jay King. He also gave another reason why he wants to be on the court against Stephen Curry and Co.
It will be tough to keep Crowder off the floor, as he makes a huge difference, and the Celtics need all the wins they can get down the stretch. Yet to that same point, Boston needs Crowder healthy entering the playoffs and should proceed with caution in the team’s remaining seven games.
Let’s hit a few other notes from Celtics-Blazers:
— Thomas made Celtics history Thursday night, but he wasn’t too happy about it.
The Celtics point guard dropped 22 points to lead the Celtics in scoring for the 14th consecutive game, passing Larry Bird’s mark of 13 straight games as Boston’s leading scorer he set during the 1987-88 season.
Yet Thomas also committed a team-high five turnovers, including a crucial cough-up with 52 seconds left in the fourth quarter that ended up sealing the Celtics’ fate.
— Thursday was a homecoming of sorts for both Thomas and Avery Bradley, who both hail from Tacoma, Wash., about 150 miles north of Portland. The Celtics guards each had 30 or more family and friends in attendance at Moda Center.
Both players put on a show for their respective contingents, as Bradley tallied 20 points on 8 of 18 shooting and dropped 16 in a huge third quarter.
— Bradley also played impressive defense on Blazers star Damian Lillard, who finished with 14 points on 3 of 16 shooting. Bradley’s effort was so impressive that Lillard actually sought him out after the game.
— The loss dealt a serious blow to the Celtics’ playoff standing, as Boston dropped all the way to No. 6 in the Eastern Conference behind the No. 5 Charlotte Hornets. Things still are very tight in the East, however, as the C’s trail the No. 3 seed Atlanta Hawks by just one and a half games.
— Getting back in the win column won’t be easy for the Celtics. They’ll take on the Warriors on Friday at Oracle Arena, where Golden State has yet to lose this season. Yet Boston apparently is up for the challenge.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) dribbles the ball up court in the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.