CRAWFORD RALLIES CLIPPERS WITH HISTORIC PERFORMANCE
SARAMENTO – Jared Dudley was still in uniform sitting next to Jamal Crawford after the Clippers’ 104-98 overtime win against the Kings, when he interrupted Crawford’s postgame interview.
“That’s a bad boy right there,” Dudley said, pointing to Crawford, who put together one of his most emphatic performances in years and arguably his best in two years as a member of the Clippers.
Crawford, a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate the last five seasons of his career, scored 31 points, dished out 11 assists and grabbed seven rebounds. According to Basketball Reference, he’s the first reserve to reach such lofty statistics in 30 years.
With Chris Paul (hamstring) out and starting shooting guard J.J. Redick lost for the game in the second quarter with a sprained right wrist, the Clippers (12-5) needed everything Crawford could give them.
“They’re just throwing monkey wrenches at us,” Crawford said. “You lose an MVP candidate in Chris and one of the better starting two guards in the league in J.J. We just had to adjust on the fly.”
Part of that adjustment meant Crawford harkening back to his days as a point guard, a position he played throughout his amateur career and his first few seasons in the NBA. For a player, so remarkably talented off the dribble, it only makes sense that he would have ball in his hands as much as possible.
“Most people think that I just try to shoot,” Crawford said. “That’s good for us because I can look like I’m going to shoot but I see that pass the whole time.”
The assists came in bundles. He had five in the second quarter and five more in the fourth quarter and overtime. He was effective as a scorer, making 12 of his 22 shots, including three 3-pointers, and all four of his free throws. But the scoring part of Crawford’s game is what everyone knows about. He is capable of grinding up a defender and spitting him out, the way he did when he crossed up the long-legged Travis Outlaw so dramatically that Outlaw ended up behind Crawford as he made his way to the basket.
That’s where the “bad boy” came into play. But Friday night was much more than a capably red-hot shooter taking over a game. It was complete. It’s why more than once since arriving at training camp Crawford, 33, has insisted he’s better than ever.
He might be right.
Lost in Crawford’s offensive outburst is that he held fellow Seattle native and sixth man sparkplug Isaiah Thomas, who scored 51 points combined in the previous two meetings, to a season-low five. Crawford had seven rebounds, something he hadn’t done since 2010 with Atlanta, the year he won the NBA’s Sixth Man award. He was everywhere. He did a little of everything.
“Jamal was outstanding, scoring when we needed him to, assisting, rebounding,” said Paul, who was forced to watch from the sidelines. “It was an unbelievable game by him.”
Paul would know. He’s put up comparable numbers four times in his career. Never as a Clipper. In fact, no Clippers player since the team moved to Los Angeles has ever had at least 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in the same game.
Much like Paul, and numerous games of his own a season ago, Crawford asserted himself when the game was on the line. He scored or assisted on eight of the Clippers’ final 10 points in overtime and had a chance to win the game in regulation, but missed a long jumper as time expired. He helped seal the game, though, less than five minutes later, knocking down a jumper to stretch the lead to four and converting a pair of foul shots to ice the game.
“Down the stretch you saw what Jamal did,” said Darren Collison, who started in place of Paul at point guard. “It’s pretty easy to just give him the ball.”
Crawford so emphatically altered the game that Rivers said the game plan changed for the Clippers once he realized how much Crawford had it going. They became almost exclusively a high pick-and-roll team, and as Collison said things became pretty easy.
“Once we saw him going, we thought, ‘Why get in the way of that?’” Rivers said. “We kept changing up who was setting the picks. Whenever they’d call a timeout we’d use someone else to set it because we figured they were going to trap it.”
Kings head coach Michael Malone was frustrated by the turn of events after the game.
“I knew that with Chris Paul not playing, that was going to give Jamal the green light to take over the game,” Malone said. “Our guys played so hard, I put this loss on me. I have to do a better job of not allowing one player like Jamal Crawford to win the game for them. He went out and scored 31 points with 11 assists. Our players need help from me and I did a poor job of giving them a game plan to calm Jamal down tonight. That was on me.”
But according to Rivers, that may have been a little easier said than done.
“He makes shots that other human beings can’t make,” Rivers said.