JAMAL CRAWFORD HAS "DREAM" DEBUT
LOS ANGELES - His first official shot as a member of the Clippers was likely not what he had in mind, but everything that followed was near perfection for newcomer Jamal Crawford.
The lanky reserve guard, who was among the team’s most prized offseason acquisitions, missed a 3-pointer from the right wing shortly after entering the game at the 3:43 mark of the first quarter. He then proceeded to make seven of his next eight shots.
And it was no ordinary shooting streak. Crawford made a running bank shot after dribbling past Wayne Ellington, nailed a pair of 3-pointers, converted a fast-break layup, and hit a step-back jumper over vaunted Grizzlies defender Tony Allen.
Crawford called his debut in Los Angeles the kind of thing “you dream about,” finishing with a game-high 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting (3-for-7 from 3-point range) off the bench. It was the fifth highest scoring debut in Clipper history (Derek Smith holds the team record with 36 in 1985), top bench scoring debut in team history, and sixth highest scoring debut off the bench in the league since 1985.
“Jamal was solid,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He’s going to score the basketball and you have to guard him. He’s difficult off the dribble and you can’t leave him, so that opens up the court a little bit for Chris [Paul].”
Paul found Crawford for a 3-pointer after slashing through the lane in Crawford’s 4-for-4 second quarter. And with 2:41 to go in the game Paul converted his tenth assist on a pass to Crawford in the left corner for another three that put the Clippers up, 96-90.
The shot was made possible after a controlled tip by DeAndre Jordan, who tapped the offensive rebound back to Crawford and reset the offense with Paul at the helm. It also led to a Grizzlies timeout with Crawford bounding to the opposite bench along the sideline.
Seven possessions earlier the 2010 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, known for his ability to beat defenders off the dribble, made arguably his best move of the night. He had the ball at the top of the key with Rudy Gay about two steps off of him, rocked the ball back and forth, drew a screen from Odom, and after Gay got around Odom, Crawford stutter-stepped and caught Gay off balance. Gay tumbled to the floor as Crawford jetted past him, connecting on a runner over the out-stretched arm of Zach Randolph.
“I’ve seen [Jamal] do stuff that I’ve only seen on video games,” said Jordan, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. “It’s crazy because he does it effortlessly.”
Crawford plays with an aura of confidence that is indicative of his fourth-quarter fearlessness, but he said postgame that it’s enhanced by the support of his teammates.
“Everyone’s welcomed me. They want me to be aggressive,” Crawford said. “They are like, ‘If we just wanted a shooter we would have went and got another person. We want you to be aggressive that’s why we brought you here.’”
Somewhat fittingly, Crawford sealed the game with a breakaway layup with 1:33 to go, a shot that was goal-tended by Jerryd Bayless and extended the Clippers’ lead to eight.
But Crawford’s game was not simply about scoring, although he did plenty of that. He had a head-turning assist on a fast break to Eric Bledsoe, wrapping the pass around his back while in the air and, according to Del Negro, “did a pretty good job defensively.”
Asked if his defense is an area that he is looking to improve, Crawford said, “It’s all about team defense. I’m just putting myself in better position. When you have a team like this you don’t want to be the weak link defensively. Working with Bobby O. (Assistant Coach Bob Ociepka) and the rest of the coaching staff I’m watching a lot of film, I want to improve, I want to get better. I’m just trying to put my best foot forward.”
On Wednesday either foot may have been his best. At least, after that first miss.