Whats Up with the Celtics? Ask Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley

The Boston Celtics are a strange team. Devoid of a superstar talent, the Cs were surprisingly popular among the advanced statistics crowd prior to the 201516 season. As Ian Levy wrote for The Cauldron before the season began, the reason for that was likely because, although seemingly lacking a top-end star, the Celtics also projected to have very few truly negative players on the floor at any given time.Instead, they had a whole bunch of players that projected to perform at a level that could be described as average or slightly above. Seeing an absence of negatives, there were a bunch of win projection (FiveThirtyEight and Nylon Calculus among them) systems that pegged the Celtics as a team that would win a number of games in the high-40s.Indeed, seven of Bostons top eight players in minutes played this season (Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, not Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, and Jonas Jerebko; plus Marcus Smart and Tyler Zeller, who rank 10th and 12th) ranked in the top 180 of ESPNs Real Plus-Minus last year. Thats nine players of at least sixth-man quality. None of those players, though, ranked in the top 30, hammering home the point that Boston didnt project to have a true star.This season has not played out as predicted, though. The Cs have five players in RPMs top 50 (including one Crowder in the top 30), and then nobody else shows up until David Lee at No. 215. So instead of being on track for pushing toward 50 wins, Boston is just 2019, a 42-win pace that would mark only a two-win improvement over last years campaign.Ahead of their 120114 loss to the New York Knicks this past Tuesday, The Cauldron sat down with two of Bostons top three players in minutes played (Crowder and Bradley) to discuss whats gone right and wrong, as well as where their skill sets fit into the larger picture of the team. Below are edited transcripts of those sit-downs.

Jae CrowderOne thing thats been happening this year is that you have the ball in your hands more often. Is that something youre comfortable with now?Its a growing thing. I work pretty hard. I work on expanding my game, and one of my goals coming into the year was to get more comfortable with the ball and making plays.

Especially in those pick and rolls on the side off a kickout, whats your mindset like when you get the ball there?Just being aggressive and being a smart player. Take what the defense gives me. Not just being a ball-mover, but being a playmaker. Its a growing process for me, like I said. I watch a lot of film and just try to get better each and every game.Ive always been able to take care of the basketball. No ones really just taking it from me. But Ive been passive since Ive been in the NBA, not been a playmaker. I know Im capable. I put in a lot of work in that part of my game and I just want to bring it to the table.Your scoring average has gone up with every month this season. Are you consciously asserting yourself on offense more?The scoring thing is just happening. Its doing what my teammates need me to do. I focus on my shots and where they come from. I do focus on that to try to take full advantage of when the defense lags on me and I find myself with an open shot, I try to knock it in. But I dont really focus on scoring the ball as much as you would think.Theres been a lot of talk about this team as one that doesnt have a star player. Are you guys aware of that talk, and do you buy into it?We dont feel that way at all. People are going to talk. I feel like if we start winning, we win at a high clip, you wont hear too much of that. Thats part of the league. We dont have a guy that people think of as a star or a leader but we do have a lot of hardworking guys who can win games, and thats what its all about.This is also a team thats been up and down a lot. There have been times where youve looked like one of the top teams in the East and other times, not so much. How do you find that consistency to stick at the top?Just doing what you do. Each guy bringing what they bring to the table and do it well on a nightly basis. I think once we do that, with every guy playing the way hes capable of playing, well be fine. Well be consistent, well have more wins, and well be where we want to be.Avery BradleyYoure known as one of the best pressure defense players in the league. When youre doing that full court or half court how much is in an effort to speed the other team up and force turnovers, and how much is in an effort to slow them down and shave seconds off the shot clock?Its a mix of both. I just try to pick my spots. Sometimes its not only that, but to tire the point guard a little bit. The other night Im guarding (Mario) Chalmers, and I know that he was gonna play a lot of minutes so I wanted to get into him and try to get him tired and speed him up. It depends on the situations in the game, I guess you could say. Younger point guards, obviously, I try to speed them up and get them thinking fast, faster.Is there anybody that you wont pressure, because you know they can handle it?I would pressure anyone. Obviously, I will be smart with it. Laughs Ill learn. Certain guys you can pressure. When you can and when you cant pressure them. I feel like not one person in the NBA likes to be pressured.I heard you laugh right there, almost like you learned a lesson one time. Is there something specific that happened that youre remembering?Theres been a few times where you try to pressure someone, and theyll go right by you. But you learn from those plays. I know I cant pressure someone like LeBron or Kevin Durant at the free-throw line because theyll use their size or their strength to get by me.Is that the worst thing that can happen when youre pressuring, someone getting by you? Or does opening up a passing lane by playing up too close hurt more?I think someone getting by my pressure is the worst thing that can happen. It just depends. You can pressure him, get back, pressure him, get back, get him thinking. It just really hurts when they go by you because youre putting pressure on bigs that can potentially put them in foul trouble or create three-point plays, so I just always try to be smart.Most people, when discussing your defense, talk about the on-ball stuff. We just did a few minutes on it. How do you feel your off-ball defense has been this year, things like tracking players off screens?I feel like I got a lot better. I feel like Im only going to improve.How would you describe your defensive style?Im so disciplined on the defensive end that I dont really gamble. Thats why the steals dont really show in my game. Because I dont go for steals, I just try to be solid. Eventually, Ill gamble a little bit more. I think it all depends on the team that youre on, the people that you have behind you. Youre able to play a little different and take those chances, but right now I feel like the best thing for our team is being solid and playing for each other.Do you think getting steals affects perception of peoples defense?I do. I do, personally. Not to take anything away from some people. Some people are just good at that and have a knack for that and can get steals. But I feel like that doesnt always win games, you know what I mean?Youve had a few good shooting seasons (40.7 percent, 39.5 percent, and 37.0 percent from three-point range) and a couple not as good (31.

7 percent and 35.

2 percent) ones. How do you think the progression of your jumper has come along?A lot. My rookie year I didnt play that much. My second year it got better. Every year, it continued to improve. My third year I dropped off. Its really just confidence. Thats what I tell a lot of my younger teammates, its confidence. And just situations of what team youre on. Whenever you get that chance to go out there where youre believing in yourself and your teammates are believing in you, thats usually when you shoot better.Watching a bunch of your games, it seems like if you hit a few early on, youll stay hot, but if you miss a few early, it may not come around. Youve had six games with four or more threes and seven (note: its now eight after the game against the Knicks) with none. Why do you think that is?I think thats learning as a team. The more we mature, they might look for me a little bit more to get me going, because I feel like, when I get going, it kind of opens everything up for our whole team.Do you feel like youre a streaky shooter?I wouldnt say its streakiness. The only reason I wouldnt say that is because I dont shoot the ball as much in the second half.Is that a conscious thing, where youre more assertive in the first half or more focused on defense in the second half?I wouldnt say its conscious. I just think its situations, you know what I mean? Its just how it is right now. I just have to find other ways to score. I feel like, at the beginning of the game, theres just a spark and energy I come out with.You guys, as a team, have struggled with your offense at the end of games this year. What do you think is the root of that and how do you fix it?I think just learning how to be smarter at the end of games. Not putting ourselves in bad situations as far as turning the ball over, getting the other team in the bonus. I can go down the list. Those are all things that we know we can fix, and we know we have to be smarter about to be able to close out games.

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