CRAWFORD SHAKES OFF RUST IN RETURN

There were a few moments Saturday afternoon when Jamal Crawford still looked unsure about his balky left calf.

It was stronger. He was cleared to play. He had been dunking in practice the day before, something he has not been able to do since he originally suffered the injury on Feb. 26. But Crawford still couldn’t stop reaching down towards the white neoprene sleeve that ran up to near his knee or glancing at it. 

“I felt good – rusty, obviously, but my teammates did a good job getting me easy looks, things of that nature,” Crawford said after the Clippers’ 117-101 win over the Kings. “You always feel a step slow when you’re coming back, but I think as your wind and legs keep improving, I think you’ll be in good shape.”

It was the third comeback from the calf injury that Crawford has made. He has been in and out of the lineup for a month and a half. His latest stint on the sideline cost him five games, but he was able to rest it for 12 days before returning to practice Friday.

After taking such a conservative approach to returning, Crawford said this time around should keep him on the floor for good as the Clippers head into the postseason next weekend.

I was extra cautious, and had the opportunity to get it strong,” he said. “I felt more prepared. I trusted [my legs] a little bit more. I think no matter how the game starts I’m always going to feel it out and in the second half I get more comfortable.”

And he looked more comfortable. He finished the afternoon with 10 points going 3-for-8 in 19:13. But he missed five of his first six shots.

“I thought he just missed shots,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “He was rusty. I didn’t think he was tentative. He just didn’t make them. So, I just thought he needed more minutes a little bit.”

Even still, in the fourth quarter Crawford started playing like the player who has racked more 3-pointers than anyone in a season in Clippers history.

With the Kings within six points in the latter stages of the fourth quarter, Crawford buried 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to extend the lead back to 12. Prior to the second shot, he grabbed a defensive rebound and slapped the ball against his palm before dishing it off to Chris Paul and raced to the left wing to spot up.

It was as though the first shot gave him a shot of confidence that he truly was back.

“Jamal looked great,” Paul said. “Those two threes he hit were Jamal Crawford style. Big shots for us, and we needed it.”

Darren Collison, who recently returned to the bench with J.J. Redick’s reinsertion into the starting lineup, added: “[Crawford] makes the game so much easier, scoring wise. Anytime Jamal is on the court we have that extra boost of scoring. Jamal has been great for us. He’s been doing it all season long.”

For the Clippers, Crawford’s return means they are as close to full strength as they have been since November. Only Danny Granger, who has been out since Mar. 27 with a left hamstring strain, remains out of the lineup and he could return by the postseason. Crawford’s return also gave Rivers more diverse options when it came to lineups.

He used Crawford as the point guard alongside Redick and Jared Dudley and also played Crawford, Paul and Redick together in what presumably is the most potent scoring backcourt he could put on the floor.

“That was a nice lineup,” Rivers said. “Offensively, it makes you very good. It spreads the floor and makes you very hard to guard you.”