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Celtics' Jae Crowder works graveyard shift to bury shooting woes

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics swingman Jae Crowder, a friend in tow to rebound, returned to the team's suburban practice facility in early hours of Saturday morning, just after Friday's Game 3 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, and engaged in a 45-minute shooting session aimed at breaking him out of a postseason slump.

Crowder has made just 7 of 36 attempts in three postseason games, a meager 19.4 percent. Still dealing with the effects of a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss eight games in March, Crowder has admitted his ankle is at about 70-percent health, but he won't allow that to be an excuse for his shooting struggles. In the last two games, Crowder is a mere 2-of-20 shooting overall and made only 1 of 11 3-pointers.

So even after a big victory at TD Garden on Friday night that trimmed Atlanta's series lead to 2-1, Crowder shunned shuteye for some extra shots.

"I got here like 1, 1:30 [a.m.] last night. The win was great. I was very happy with that, but I wanted to prepare myself for Game 4," Crowder said. "It’s a big game for us and I wanted to really step into my shots and be a force in my offensive game. I’m doing great on defense and guys are still applauding me on that, but I just want to lift our team up a little more in the offensive end. I just wanted to see the ball go through the hoop."

Crowder has been stellar defensively, particularly against the likes of Paul Millsap, helping the Celtics hold Atlanta's dynamic big man to an average of 8.7 points on 31.3-percent shooting over the first three games of the series. Crowder is limiting his opponents to 38.9-percent shooting (14 of 36) overall and a mere 15.4 percent (2 of 13) beyond the 3-point line. The league's hustle stats also reveal Crowder as tied for third in the playoffs in deflections, averaging four per game, and he's tied for the team lead in contesting an average of 8.7 shots overall per game.

But with Boston struggling to generate consistent offense, Crowder wants to shake himself from this funk. After averaging a career-best 14.2 points per game on 44.3 percent shooting this season, Crowder, who finished sixth in voting for the league's Most Improved Player, is averaging 6.7 points in the postseason (offsetting that with 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 0.7 blocks per game). He could sleep a little better at night if those shots would start falling.

"I’m going to keep shooting -- that’s what I’ve done all year," Crowder said. "A slump is going to happen -- it’s happening right now -- but I’ll be fine."

Both Crowder's teammates (it was Isaiah Thomas who divulged the until-then secret late-night shooting practice) and his coach believe that shots will eventually fall.

"I believe in the law of averages and Jae’s a good shooter," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "Jae’s been a good shooter all year. I have not lost one iota of sleep over that, either. Keep shooting it. He’s open, he’s gonna be aggressive and we want him to be aggressive. He’s a big reason why we’re here."

Crowder engaged in a 45-minute, post-practice shooting session before talking to reporters Saturday and said he'd likely return again Saturday night for another barrage of jumpers.

"He's so positive. We're so positive with him," Thomas said. "We're confident in his ability to score the basketball and to help us like he has all year. Once he gets going, it's going to be scary. He was in here last night [after the game] getting shots up. He's hard on himself but, at the same time, he's taking the right shots. The basketball gods will help him out soon."

Echoed Marcus Smart: "I think Jae just needs to see the ball going in and I think Jae knows that. A little bit of that is starting at the defensive end and getting some easy buckets, transition and some easy buckets for Jae, and I think that’ll get Jae going."

Stevens appreciated the message that Crowder sent, especially for a young team that's had to lean on rookies to fill minutes at the guard spots because of injuries.

Crowder hasn't made shots, but he's not making excuses, either. He's frustrated by how the ankle has sapped some of his lateral movement defensively and taken away some of his lift while shooting.

"I think [not being full health is] very frustrating. More frustrating than me not making shots, to be honest with you, because I’m not able to do a lot of things I was able to do earlier in the year," Crowder said. "But even with me not being 100 percent, I think our team is in a great place right now. We can take control of the series with a Game 4 victory [Sunday] night and I’m looking forward to it."