CRAWFORD MAKES FIRST START IN 101 GAMES WITH CLIPPERS

WASHINGTON – Jamal Crawford didn’t need to say anything. His smile told it all.

After shootaround at Verizon Center Saturday morning, Crawford knew he would be starting for the first time in 100 regular-season games as a member of the Clippers.

He grinned when he was asked about it. Since his Sixth Man of the Year season in Atlanta, more than five years ago, Crawford has been typecast in many ways as instant offense off the bench. He had started just six times in the 315 games prior to Saturday night’s road-trip finale in the Nation’s Capital.

Crawford delivered, scoring 17 points with three assists in 39:20. Still, as he thought it would be, the move by Head Coach Doc Rivers required a bit of an adjustment period.  He went nearly four minutes before his first shot and had two assists before his first made field goal, a spot-up 3-pointer in front his team’s bench.

“You have to be more patient,” Crawford said when asked the difference between starting and coming off the bench. “I think I was a little too patient. I see spots where I could be more aggressive, but it’s the first time so I’ll get better at it.”

Crawford, 33, has long thought of himself as a starter. But he has remained one of the league’s most productive reserves in years with Atlanta, Portland and now the Clippers. But with J.J. Redick out for an extended period with a fractured right hand and torn ligament in his wrist and Chris Paul being trapped and blitzed more often than the 16 games he started alongside Redick, Rivers made the move to Crawford after going with Willie Green for the first seven games of Redick’s absence.

“I just really wanted more spacing with the first group and with the second group,” Rivers said. “I thought Chris was trying to do too much with that unit. He felt like with Willie [Green] and [Jared Dudley] he was the only ball-handler and that just spread it out.”

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Playing with Crawford at his side comes naturally for Paul. They were on the floor together for long stretches of the fourth quarter last year, and while Crawford is not the same kind of scorer as Redick, he creates a litany of problems for opposing defenses because of the pressure he puts on them as a ball-handler, shooter and threat off the dribble.

“Jamal and J.J. are obviously very different types of players,” Blake Griffin said. “They can both score the ball but they’re different types of players. It’s good to have another ball-handler out there and somebody who can mix it up a little bit.

“You really don’t even notice it because he’s been in with the starters so many times.”

It may also help that Crawford is more than capable of making plays for others. It’s something that he relishes in, even more so than turning a defender inside-out with a crossover or lofting one his sky-scraping jumpers. 

“I think, honestly, I get more excited when people talk about my passing than scoring,” Crawford said a week ago in Cleveland, “because I’ve always been put in a box as a scorer. To talk about something different after 14 years, who can you think of in their career in the later stages, 14 years, when they’re like, ‘We didn’t know that you could do this.’ That’s kind of unique.”

Crawford said from the onset of training camp that he is a better player than a year ago when he narrowly missed out on becoming the fourth player ever to win two Sixth Man awards in their career. With a new coach and a new offensive system, though, Crawford was more intent early on in fitting in than showing off his improved all-around game that he honed over the summer in Seattle. 

“I knew the offense would be a little different, especially if you look at Doc’s teams with [All-Star point guard Rajon] Rondo,” he said. “He dominated the ball and made plays for people. It was more catch-and-shoot things. I said, I have to work on my catch-and-shoot to be more effective with Chris and Blake, obviously. Those two are two superstars and you find ways to play with them.”

The so-called feeling out process lasted for about three weeks and then Rivers sent Crawford a text after the team played in Sacramento during the preseason.

“I still was going to do it if that’s what Doc wanted,” Crawford said. “I’m not here to rock to boat for anybody. Then he was like, ‘No, no. You’ve got it all wrong. You have to be you.’”

Whether it’s Crawford the passer/playmaker or the guy averaging 16.0 points through 25 games, he seemed to find his lane once the season started. Rivers played Crawford and Redick together at times and after Redick went down, Crawford became even more indispensible.

He scored 31 points with 11 assists off the bench in Sacramento on Nov. 29 in a game Paul sat out with a minor hamstring injury and helped Rivers leave Boston victorious on Wednesday with 21 points, including two back-breaking 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Rivers and Crawford both said after the game that the experiment with Crawford as a starter and Green coming off the bench would be evaluated going forward. For one game, it was a success.

“It was just a little bit of a different look,” Paul said. “Let him attack and let him handle the ball and stuff like that. Coach just wanted to change it up a little bit.”