BOSTON -- A two-sport standout at Villa Rica High School in Georgia, Jae Crowder was more heavily recruited on the gridiron than the hardwood. During the Celtics' national TV appearance on the NBA's Sunday Showcase against the Chicago Bulls, Crowder displayed why that might have been.
Crowder, falling out of bounds, launched an 80-foot outlet pass that hit Avery Bradley in stride for a layup during the third quarter of Boston's 100-80 shellacking of the lifeless Bulls. The pass highlighted a night in which the hosts feasted on the defensive indifference of a head-shaking Bulls team and the crowd at TD Garden -- and some of Boston's players, including Isaiah Thomas and Crowder -- passed time in the fourth quarter by engaging in The Wave
"I had a flashback to my high school days," Crowder said of his toss. "Getting rushed by a big [defensive] end. I threw off my back foot and it was a touchdown."
After Dwyane Wade missed a 3-pointer, Crowder used his left arm to push back 6-foot-11 Bobby Portis and corral the rebound in his right arm on the baseline. Falling backward, with both heels barely in front of the end line, Crowder unleashed a bomb to Bradley, who hardly had to slow up before the ball hit him directly in his No. 0 inside the free throw line at the other end. Making Crowder's toss all the more spectacular was that he launched the ball over Portis and with Rajon Rondo trying to strip it away. Bradley finished a layup without a dribble and before Jimmy Butler could race to contest.
Back at the other end of the floor, Crowder threw his hands in the air to celebrate his touchdown. No word if the Cleveland Browns have called Celtics executive Danny Ainge yet to inquire about his availability.
But it wasn't always the home run pass that dazzled. Early in the second quarter, Bradley drove hard at the basket, then kicked to Amir Johnson in the corner. The ball started its way around the perimeter, zipping from Johnson to Al Horford, who hesitated slightly before trying to feed Thomas.
When Wade tried to jump the pass, Thomas alertly batted the ball with his right hand. The ball arced high in the air and finished its trip around the perimeter by landing with Crowder. As the Bulls rushed to match up, Bradley crept back door and took the pass from Crowder before quickly putting up a floater over Portis.
"I couldn’t get to it, so I just had to make a play on it and hit it in [Crowder's] direction," Thomas said. "With the pass, [Wade] was playing the passing lane -- that’s the only way I could have got it to the next man."
Asked to assess whose pass was better -- his ricochet or Crowder's touchdown toss -- Thomas immediately chose his own.
On this night, the Celtics could have debated endlessly over which of their plays deserved top billing in the highlight package. Early in the second quarter, rookie Jaylen Brown came up with a steal and broke out in transition with three red Bulls jerseys nearby. Despite having a man in front of him and another behind, Brown went behind the back with his dribble at the free throw line, then launched an impossible left-handed floater that rattled home.
Bradley also had a notable chase-down block on Butler, and Terry Rozier had two fine moments, including a behind-the-back bounce pass to Horford for a 3-pointer and a loud steal/slam combo in the second half.
Having dropped five of their past nine games, including three of five on their recently concluded West Coast trip, the Celtics savored a rather breezy night and took some credit for the Bulls' woeful shooting display (particularly at the start of the game, when Chicago missed its first 12 shots and didn't score in the first 5 minutes, 53 seconds of Sunday's game).
"When we play defense, we usually win," said Thomas, who scored a team-high 22 points before getting to relax for the entire fourth quarter.
More importantly for the Celtics, they moved into a virtual tie for second place in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Wizards.
"I went to dinner with Isaiah after the Denver [loss this on Friday] and he was pretty pissed because the Wizards had won and gained second place," Crowder said. "I told him, 'Don't worry about it. We got a lot of games left and we'll get them back. We just have to take care of each game at a time.'
"I don't check [the standings] too often; Isaiah checks a lot."
The Celtics and Wizards, with no love lost between the two teams in recent seasons, meet for the fourth and final time this regular season in Boston on March 20.
"Fifteen games left, we gotta play our best brand of basketball, because we know Washington is playing really well right now," Thomas said. "Cleveland’s not going to play like they have been, for the most part. We just gotta control our own destiny, control what we can control, and that’s by bringing it each and every night. Luckily, we got home games, so we need to protect home court and go from there."
Horford echoed the sentiments.
"We’re running out of time," he said. "We have to [make a push], and it’s game by game. In Golden State, we took a step towards that, and we had a letdown in Denver. Now we played good again [Sunday], and we have to start building on it. We have to start committing to it."