WALTHAM — When Celtics forward Jae Crowder was a high school quarterback, he broke a bone in his left hand while bracing himself during a tackle. After a few weeks, with a game looming against a rival school, Crowder insisted that his cast be cut off early so he could play. The cast was cut, and Crowder returned.
It is that uncommon toughness that has defined much of Crowder’s basketball career, and now he is faced with another obstacle, another injury that will test his pain threshold. On Sunday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the high ankle sprain Crowder suffered during the loss to the Rockets on Friday would sideline him for a minimum of two weeks.
Typically, it takes four to six weeks to return from a high ankle sprain, though the severity of Crowder’s injury remains unclear. In four weeks, the regular season will end. In six weeks, Boston’s first-round playoff series would probably have concluded, too.
Crowder will certainly do all he can to return before that, but there is no question the Celtics will need reinforcements in the short term.
“That’s definitely tough,” guard Evan Turner said. “In general, Jae’s playing so great. He plays the bulk of the minutes for us, and defensively and the versatility that we have with him on the floor, it’s definitely tough. So the biggest thing is just getting him healthy. We’ve got a lot of capable guys, guys that have stayed ready throughout this process. So they’ll have an opportunity.”
Crowder, who is averaging 14.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game this season, suffered the injury when he landed awkwardly after taking a layup during the third quarter Friday.
He was not available to speak to reporters Sunday, but Bryan Doo, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, posted a video on Instagram of Crowder wearing a walking boot on his right foot while completing a strength workout.
Crowder has emerged as one of the Celtics’ toughest and most valuable players, and he has often drawn the assignment of defending the opponent’s most dangerous scorer.
“There aren’t a ton of guys that can guard [power forwards] for long stretches or sometimes [centers] for long stretches, and Jae can do all that,” Stevens said. “So that’s one of the things that’s going to be quite a balancing act without him, and we’re going to have to have guys step up and play. We’ll probably end up playing a little more traditional because of that.”
Stevens has not decided who will replace Crowder in the starting lineup when the Celtics face the Pacers on Tuesday night. He said he probably would not make a decision until Tuesday morning.
Crowder’s injury comes as Boston approaches the critical homestretch of the regular season. The Celtics are in third place in the Eastern Conference, but several teams are lurking. Boston is just five games ahead of the eighth-place Pistons with 16 games remaining.
When Stevens was asked if Crowder would most likely return for the start of the playoffs, he pointed out that the Celtics still have to qualify for the postseason.
“Next man up, man,” point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “Not just one person is going to cover what Jae did. But as a group, collectively, the guys that Brad calls in have to be ready for the opportunity, and collectively as a group do all the things Jae did. He’s a big part of this team. He defends, he hits open shots, he does a lot for us. So guys need to step up. I’m going to try to do my part and do even more than what’s asked.”
With Crowder out, forward Kelly Olynyk’s return becomes even more important. Olynyk has been sidelined since spraining his right shoulder Feb. 10. He took part in a full practice on Sunday and remains hopeful that he will be able to play against the Pacers.
“You have to have confidence and you have to know your shoulder’s going to be strong enough to do the things you need to do,” Olynyk said. “That’s what it comes down to. If you’re not, then you’re not helping the team. You’re hindering the team and you’re putting the team at a disadvantage, and that’s not what you want to do.”
The Celtics on Sunday recalled forward James Young from the Maine Red Claws, and Stevens said the team’s rookies should expect to receive more opportunities now, too.