After the Celtics defeated the Jazz Tuesday, forward Jae Crowder voiced his displeasure with a perceived slight by Boston’s fans. Crowder heard cheers for Utah forward Gordon Hayward, who plays the same position as Crowder and could become a free agent this summer and thus could possibly become a Celtic.
Crowder did not like it.
“I think that was a sign of disrespect to me from the fans,” he said. “That sparked a little fire in me.”
In an instant, the focus shifted away from one of Boston’s signature wins of this season, and ignited debate about who was out of line: the fans or Crowder. But the fans did not see what happened around 11:30 p.m. Monday, the night before the Jazz game, when Crowder could not sleep and could not stop thinking about his jumper. He went to the team’s training facility in Waltham and fired up one shot after another.
“I didn’t leave,” he said, “until it felt like I put some work in.”
That commitment, that work ethic is part of the reason Crowder would like to be appreciated. He is in the midst of the finest offensive season of his career, and this season he has been one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the NBA.
After using the Hayward cheers — however faint they were — as motivation, Crowder drilled his first five 3-point attempts Tuesday night. His lone miss came on a desperation heave with the shot clock about to expire.
While Crowder is not expected to make his first five 3-pointers every game, his hot shooting was not some massive anomaly. He is making 43 percent of his 3-pointers this year, a mark that would obliterate his previous career high of 33.6 percent.
Crowder ranks 14th in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage, ahead of consistent sharpshooters such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Ryan Anderson, Kyle Korver, and Kevin Durant, among others.
He is shooting a high volume of 3-pointers, too — a career-high 5.3 per game.
So, what changed? Well, according to Crowder, nothing much.
“I just stayed with the process of staying in the gym,” he said. “I didn’t change anything mechanically. I just put a little more work in and tried to be more confident.
“My college coach used to always say you get true confidence from your work that you put in, so I’ll just keep working at it. Nothing changed mechanically; nothing changed with how I release the ball or anything like that.”
The improvement is most likely a combination of Crowder’s diligence and good surroundings. Isaiah Thomas has continued on his path to superstardom, and his ability to carve through defenses and command so much attention invariably will create opportunities for Crowder. Also, the addition of Al Horford, a pass-first, floor-spacing big man who is averaging 4.9 assists per game, certainly helps.
This season, 20.5 percent of Crowder’s shots have been 3-pointers without a defender within 6 feet of him, up from 11.4 percent a year ago. That means opposing defenses are more often focused elsewhere. Also, 87.9 percent of his threes have come off of assists, the highest mark of his career.
Against the Jazz, Crowder hit his first three on a simple pick-and-pop with Thomas, then added his second by making a quick cut and receiving a handoff from Horford. The next three came in transition, as he ran the floor and found his spots, and his teammates found him.
“When he’s playing that well on offense, it’s tough to beat us,” Thomas said. “We know he’s going to bring it on the defensive end. And when he’s making shots and attacking the hole, getting fouls, that just gives us another weapon to show.”
Last season the Celtics used Crowder more extensively as a power forward in smaller lineups. Although his defenders would have more length on the perimeter, they were often not comfortable there, making it a favorable matchup for Crowder.
But this season the Celtics have played with more traditional groupings, with Crowder at small forward, and coach Brad Stevens said that makes his long-range surge even more impressive.
“I don’t know what the numbers say,” Stevens said, “but every time he’s open and set, I have a pretty good feeling that it’s going to go in. He works hard at it.”
Crowder has been deadly from the corners — a shorter shot — where he has canned 50 percent of his 3-pointers this season, up from 32.9 last year. He has also improved his percentage on pull-up threes from 24.5 to 46.2.
“We’ve got to make sure,” guard Marcus Smart said, “that we can keep getting him shots.”