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Celtics not getting to free throw line

Jae Crowder said the Celtics haven’t been getting to the free throw line because they haven’t been getting the calls, such as Sunday against Oklahoma City. Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — The Celtics are 26th in the NBA in free throws attempted, and that’s with Isaiah Thomas playing in 21 of the first 24 games.

In the first two games without Thomas, the Celtics piled up 51 free throws, but they reverted to usual form Sunday against Oklahoma City with just eight attempts, four by reserve forward Kelly Olynyk.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the answer is not to have players forcing themselves into situations to draw fouls, especially when it’s not in their nature.

“Our highest free-throw rate player doesn’t play [right now],” Stevens said of Thomas. “It’s part of the reason why you don’t get to the line much. We’ve talked about it before. A lot of guys on our team have not been high free-throw rate players during their careers. You like to get to the line more than we did but at the same time, we also have play to our strengths.”

The Celtics’ lack of free throws Sunday could be directly related to a lack of fouls. The Thunder were whistled for just nine fouls — a season low for a Celtics’ opponent — compared with 22 for Boston.

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“We just can’t lower our heads and drive into bodies and expect calls,” Stevens said. “We have to play to our strengths and do the best that we can. I thought the game was really well officiated. I didn’t have any problems with the officiating.”

Jae Crowder has attempted just 24 free throws through 16 games (1.5 per game average) compared with 3.3 per game last season.

Also, 24.4 percent of Crowder’s shots this season have from within 16 feet, compared with 41.3 last season, meaning he is taking longer 2-point shots and 3-pointers, and therefore drawing fewer fouls. Does Crowder need to use his physicality and strength for more post-ups and potential free-throw opportunities?

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“We’ll post him when it’s appropriate” Stevens said. “You gotta also realize who he’s being guarded by most of the time. He’s playing against Kawhi Leonard [Wednesday] and against [Michael] Kidd-Gilchrist on Friday. He’s playing against bigger, strong men. He’s a very capable post player but at the same time, you have to figure those guys are good athletes who are excellent defenders as well. I thought he did a good job in his two or three post-ups [Sunday] and it’s something we’ll look to take advantage of when the opportunity presents itself.”

Crowder believes the team has been aggressive enough to get more calls and free throws.

“For a majority of the season, we haven’t been getting to the free throw line and it’s noticeable,” he said. “I feel like guys are driving the ball but we haven’t been getting the calls that we should, I feel like. You can’t sway from it. You can’t just continue to shoot jump shots, you have to go in, keep going in there and forcing the referee to make calls. When I do [have post chances], I plan on taking advantage of it. I’ve been trying to do so.”

Praise for Leonard

With Tim Duncan retired, the San Antonio Spurs have become Leonard’s team. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year entered play Tuesday seventh in the NBA in steals, 12th in scoring, and has a career high 27.1 player efficiency rating (the NBA average is 15).

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Stevens had nothing but kudos for the 25-year-old Leonard, who scored 25 points with 10 rebounds in the teams’ Nov. 25 meeting at TD Garden.

“Kawhi has got elite physical tools obviously with his length and athleticism, strength,” Stevens said. “One thing everybody’s always known about Kawhi, even from his days at San Diego State and before that is his competitive spirit. He’s an elite competitor and as a result, he’s always been a guy that’s really improved.”

Crowder said Leonard is a strong defender.

“His length on the ball, his activity with his hands,” Crowder said. “He’s just very smart. He knows when to press up on you. He knows when to back up. He’s a great defender. I just feel like we play the game the right way. We let the game come to us. We don’t really force it. He plays within himself. He knows what he does well and tries to do it each night. That’s the most similarity we have with one another.”

Thomas not on trip

Stevens said Thomas would not make the trip to San Antonio for Wednesday’s game but said Thomas could return for Friday’s home game with the Charlotte Hornets. Thomas tweaked his hamstring during the Dec. 5 loss to the Houston Rockets and Wednesday will be the fourth game he will miss.

“Isaiah is feeling a lot better,” Stevens said. “Any pain is gone but he’s still feeling a little stiff. But he’s progressed well.”

Thomas expressed desire to make the two-game, five-day trip to Oklahoma City and San Antonio but said the team was being cautious with his injury, especially with such a difficult stretch to end the month. The Celtics have Charlotte, Memphis (twice), Indiana, Oklahoma City, Cleveland and the New York Knicks in the next few weeks.

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“Friday would be the hope,” Stevens said. “That’s not set in stone.”


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.