TORONTO – You could almost feel Saturday’s game coming from Jamal Crawford.
He came in averaging 23 points on the Grammy trip, had cast away nearly two weeks of errant shooting, and players around the league were putting up gaudier scoring numbers each night.
On Friday, Crawford spent nearly as much time talking about Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point night as he did anything related to the Clippers or their win in Chicago. Of course, that was because reporters wanted to know what Crawford thought about it. He’s one of the league’s most difficult scorers to contain when hot and owner of 50-point games on three separate teams.
A night later, in Air Canada Centre, a place he once before reached half a hundred, Crawford was on pace to do it again.
The way he’s been playing, though, Saturday’s 37 points, including 26 in a dazzling first half, and 11 assists against the Raptors, seemed like it had been brewing for a while. Two weeks earlier, when he was hovering around 30 percent shooting over a nine-game stretch, he didn’t sound too worried.
Crawford typically operates by the “not too high, not too low” mantra. You can see it on the court when even after the most devastating crossover he rarely shows an outpouring of emotion. So, when he was struggling from the field a monster game was possible at any moment, if for no other reason than because Crawford is nearly impossible to curtail for long.
After the 126-118 win in Toronto, Blake Griffin called Crawford “unbelievable,” Willie Green referred to his first half as “awesome” and Doc Rivers said, “He’s been great.”
In perspective: Crawford’s night in Toronto, similar to a game two months ago when he had 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds against the Kings, was unprecedented. No other player in NBA history has had 31 points or more off the bench while handing out at least 11 assists. Crawford has done it twice this season.
It was the most points off the bench by any player in the league this season, the most Crawford’s scored off the bench in his career, and, according to basketball reference, only the 10th occurrence in the last half decade of a player, who did not start, scoring at least 37 points.
“Honestly, I think this could have been a 50-point night because you kind of know when you have it,” said Crawford, who has topped half a hundred three times in his career. “This one could have easily been a 50-point night. But the way the game went, they started doubling a little bit, and I started finding my teammates. There will be other opportunities.”
But Saturday, a game that included 244 total points and a career-high 51 by Terrence Ross, was an accumulation of things for Crawford. He tied Kobe Bryant for 12th all-time in 3-pointers made, he scored 19 or more points in his sixth straight game of the Clippers’ seven-game road trip, averaging 25.5 per game and helping the team thrive in the absence of Chris Paul.
It’s a stretch that’s almost assuredly thrust him into the NBA’s race for Sixth Man of the Year. A season after he was locked in a two-man duel with mercurial guard J.R. Smith for the award, there are no clear-cut contenders with him. Crawford’s averaging more points than last year, more assists and is on track to blow past his Clippers’ franchise record of 149 3-pointers in a season, a mark he earned last April. He’s made 104 and has 36 games left.
But there’s a difference with Crawford in that respect, too. Last season, at times, he may have been gunning for the award. This season, even though he has a chance at 34 by season’s end to be the oldest winner ever and first to do it on two different teams, he has bigger things on his mind: getting deep into the Playoffs for the first time in his career.
It was perhaps most evident in the final period, when he was taken out of the game with more than six minutes remaining and did not return until the 0:56 mark. The chance at 50 points was long gone, but the Clippers, thanks to nine fourth-quarter points from Griffin and a couple of key jumpers by J.J. Redick, pulled away.
Afterwards Crawford sat at his locker, his feet buried deep in a bucket of ice water, and smiled when the media entered. The points were what they asked about and Crawford obliged, just like he did in Chicago when Carmelo Anthony came up. But the win mattered more.
“When you’re you in a shootout like and it comes down to few stops and you’re the guys who are getting them, it’s always fun,” Crawford said.