Guard Jamal Crawford, who agreed to a four-year contract Wednesday to join the Clippers, was in day 16 of his one-year go-around with the Blazers. He was struggling through the opening half, missing 4 of his first 5 attempts and the 6-foot-5, long-armed former Sixth Man of the Year was yet to provide the instant offense that was customary in two seasons as a reserve with the Hawks.
With Portland down by 17, Crawford made a couple of mid-range jumpers in the third quarter and as he has so often in his 12-year career, he went off in the fourth. It was a vintage performance from the ever-confident Crawford, who's something of a brushfire rolling through dry summer countryside; containing him is the only option.
There was a 26-footer that barely touched the net, a silky pull-up, and, of course, his devastating crossover. The one referenced in his Twitter handle: @JCrossover.
He finished with a game-high 23 points, 13 in the fourth quarter, and while Chris Paul made the clinching floater over LaMarcus Aldridge to close out the then undefeated Blazers, 93-88, the Crawford show may have had a lasting impression.
"We feel that Jamal can be a consistent scorer in any role that we put him in, whether starting or coming off the bench," Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said when asked what he thought Crawford brings to the Clippers.
"When you have a guy who is able to score in bunches like that, it really does alter the game and affect how teams have to match-up with us. With the scorers we already have out there, to be able to have a player of Jamal's caliber coming off the bench is going to be a huge boost."
Fast forward seven months.
After opting out of his contract with Portland to become an unrestricted free agent, Crawford was rumored to be sought after by a number of contenders. But soon after the Clippers shipped former All-Star Mo Williams to Utah as part of the Lamar Odom trade, Crawford's fit in Los Angeles was seemingly never better.
He officially inked a four-year deal Wednesday. Per team policy terms of the agreement were not announced.
In effect the move helps ease the backcourt losses of Williams, who finished eighth in last season's Sixth Man of the Year voting, and Nick Young. In Odom and Crawford, the Clippers replace a Sixth Man candidate with two recent winners of the award.
Crawford said it was an easy decision to come to Los Angeles, despite being courted by several other teams. Part of that may have had to do with the recruitment efforts of Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Blake Griffin.
"It feels really good to be on the same team with those guys," Crawford continued. "Chris was actually the first person to call me, him and Chauncey, saying how much they wanted me here. Then Blake called me as well, so when you have the top dogs like that calling you saying they want you on the team it makes you feel good. It makes you feel respected and you definitely respond to that. For me, seeing everything from top to bottom, it was a no brainer."
Paul, who beat Crawford's Trail Blazers in three out of four tries last year, is equally excited to join forces with Crawford. "Jamal adds another dimension to our team," he said. "He's a great player, a great guy and I'm excited for the opportunity to play alongside him on the court."
Crawford is in the midst of hosting a youth basketball camp as well as charity events in his hometown of Seattle. Here's what the newest Clipper said giving back to the community means to him:
"That means everything to me. Honestly, that is the coolest part about being an athlete is being able to touch so many lives, so for me, I try to do everything I can in Seattle. I have a 4th of July barbeque where we feed the whole city. I have a basketball camp going on right now actually that I am shooting back tonight for. I have another camp, a back-to-school camp where we give free haircuts to the boys and we supply the backpacks with all the school supplies in it so that takes some pressure off the parents. I have my summer league that goes on and a back to school program that I do with the mayor of Seattle. There are so many other things that I am drawing a blank on all of them. I am involved in a lot of different things in the city of Seattle."
Crawford was picked 8th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2000 NBA Draft, but was shipped to the Bulls as part of a draft-day deal that included center Chris Mihm (No. 4 overall). The Seattle native played for the Knicks, Warriors, Hawks, and Trail Blazers following four years in Chicago.
While his best points-per-game marks came in New York, his most efficient seasons occurred in two years with the Hawks. In 2009-10, Crawford was named the Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 18.0 points per game, a league-high for players who did not start a game, in just 31.1 minutes, his fewest in nine seasons.
He remains definitively a scorer, capable of getting his own shot by way of his aforementioned crossover or spotting up from the perimeter. He's a career 15.3 points per game scorer, including averaging 15.4 in the last three seasons playing primarily as a reserve with Atlanta and Portland. And while at 32, he's not the finisher he was when he entered the league as a 20-year-old freshman out of the University of Michigan, he remains a threat from anywhere on the court.
He is the NBA record holder for four-point plays, coincidentally setting mark against the Clippers in 2010. He's a career 34.8% shooter from three-point range, twice exceeding 36% since 2008-09, as well as a deadeye from the line. He was one of two players (J.J. Redick) to top 90% free throw shooting last season, making a career-high and league-best 92.7%. And according to HoopData.com, Crawford has made better than 45% of his shots between 16 and 23 feet in three of his last six seasons.
Even in a somewhat difficult situation in Portland last year, Crawford managed to score 18.7 points per 36 minutes in a role that remained undefined, vacillating between reserve shooting guard and starting point guard.
"At the end of the day, we didn't win as many games as we wanted to [in Portland]," Crawford said following his exit interview with the Blazers on April 29. "But I don't know how, I still ended up being second [on the team] in scoring and assists. I don't know how that was possible."
He totaled 3.2 assists per game in Portland, 0.7 below his career average, but don't underestimate his abilities as a passer. In New York he regularly tallied more than five per game, playing alongside Stephon Marbury. More importantly, considering the Clippers' frontcourt tandem of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, 49% (1.7 out of 3.5) of Crawford's assists since 2007 have come at the rim.
It seemed as though Del Negro was already focused on ways to use Crawford in more situations than merely a designated shooter/scorer.
"Jamal has demonstrated that he is comfortable playing both guard positions," Del Negro said. "That is one reason he is so valuable, especially coming off the bench. You can use him in different situations at different positions, and as a coach, that provides you a lot of flexibility and can create a lot of match-up problems."
Still, Crawford has clearly shown the ability to not just be a big-time scorer, but score when his team needs it the most. He's made memorable buzzer-beaters with the Knicks and Hawks and is prone to get hot at any moment, just like he did in January against the Clippers.
"I've always responded to pressure situations," Crawford said. "I don't really see pressure. I just see another opportunity to be successful. If you are successful in those environments, then you can succeed in anything. For me, I feel like there is nothing that can be thrown at me that I will not be able to respond to. This is a situation that fits everything I am about and everything I am trying to do, so I feel like the best is yet to come."