With the obvious caveat of it being trash time in a lopsided game in which both teams had emptied their benches, Crowder produced an eyebrow-raising 15-second sequence in which he (1) grabbed a defensive rebound, (2) hit a 3-pointer as a trailer in transition, (3) stole the ball as the Wizards advanced past midcourt and (4) produced an and-one layup going the other way.
Crowder finished with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and a block over 16 minutes of floor time.
Of the three players acquired from the Dallas Mavericks in the Rajon Rondo swap, Crowder may be the most likely to have a future with the team. The 6-foot-7 swingman is due a $1.2 million qualifying offer after the season that's a no-brainer for Boston to extend if he's not a casualty of salary aggregation at the February trade deadline.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge hinted that Boston has long had an interest in Crowder and you can easily envision former Celtics coach Doc Rivers prodding Ainge to pick the Marquette product in the 2012 draft. But Crowder was off the board at No. 34 to Cleveland. (Coincidentally, he was traded to the Cavaliers in a swap that included current teammate Tyler Zeller.)
Crowder distinguished himself by simply carving out a rotation role on a veteran Mavericks team in recent seasons. His career stat line doesn't leap off the page -- 4.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals over 15.9 minutes per game -- but he's a competitive and physical defender who is capable of hitting 3-point shots and generating scoring opportunities off cuts.
Crowder has a knack for making head's-up plays. Against Brooklyn on Friday, he misfired on a wing 3-pointer and was starting back on defense when Boston corralled the offensive rebound off a scramble. With his man cheating back behind him, Crowder sprinted from midcourt straight down the middle of the paint and was rewarded with an and-one layup. During Saturday's game in Washington, Crowder was deep in the corner, but when the Wizards collapsed on Brandon Bass near the blocks, Crowder sneaked in on the baseline and tipped home a miss.
If Boston's roster is thinned before the trade deadline, Crowder figures to get a better opportunity to show his potential. He can certainly fill up a stat line, though his calling card ultimately might be his defense.
Built more like a football player, he uses his size to harass opposing wings. His defensive numbers this season actually are a bit surprising. While opponents are shooting a modest 1.3 percent below their typical average against Crowder, he holds those players to 9.6 percent below their season average inside the 3-point arc. Troubles lie in defending the 3-point shot as opponents are shooting 12.4 percent better than their average against Crowder's defense, according to the league's player tracking data.
That's likely an early-season anomaly. Last year, over a 75-game sample, Crowder held opponents to 3.2 percent below their season average overall, including 6.5 percent lower beyond the 3-point arc. The 3-pointers this season are driving up his points allowed per possession, a metric he fared well in last season, allowing only 0.785 points per play (ranking in the 84th percentile among all league players), according to Synergy Sports data.
During their first meeting with reporters after the Rondo trade earlier this month, Crowder needled coach Brad Stevens about how Marquette beat Butler in the NCAA tournament in what would be Stevens' final college game.
Sitting next to Crowder, Jameer Nelson joked, "You know he controls the playing time right?"
Stevens won't hold it against him, and it's clear he likes Crowder's potential. When fans roared for the return of Kevin Garnett last week, it was Crowder that Stevens turned to and noted, "If you play the right way here, people appreciate it."
Fans are going to like Crowder's style, and the Celtics are hopeful he can blossom a bit with additional reps moving forward.
Crowder won't likely shy from the work necessary to earn that time. His path to the NBA was far from ordinary, including stops at South Georgia Tech and Howard College (earning Junior College Player of the Year) before landing at Marquette.
Crowder fits Boston's preferred mold with hoops in his bloodlines as his father, Corey, played professionally, including two stints in the NBA. Boston has found success with that formula in recent draftees Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, whose hoops-teaching fathers have been consistent presences around the squad since their arrivals.
Now Crowder will get a chance to prove he belongs as a piece of Boston's young core.