Crawford “Changes The Narrative,” Busting Out Of Slump

ATLANTA – Jamal Crawford found out Monday night what a chat with a Hall of Famer can do for a player’s confidence.

Before Crawford – mired in a 15-for-71 slump his previous seven games – took the court against the Hawks, he glided past head coach Doc Rivers during his pregame media availability.

“Let’s change up that narrative tonight,” Crawford said assertively as he passed the media throng, right as his recent struggles got brought up.

Crawford had just spoken with Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, something he often does when he plays in Atlanta. But this time was different. The NBA’s No. 13 all-time scorer sought Crawford out, because he had something on his mind.

The two former Hawks spoke for almost 20 minutes before the game. Wilkins told him to get out of his head and stay in his normal routine.

For weeks, Crawford was doing the opposite.

He overanalyzed everything, putting in extra work at the gym, getting up extra shots every day. After a 1-for-9 night against the Lakers on a Saturday afternoon, Crawford went back to the gym later that night to shoot more.

“Every shooter goes through it,” Crawford said. “It’s frustrating, and it was OK at the same time because we were winning.”

Still, even in those wins, Crawford knew he wasn’t himself. The game before the victory against the Lakers, he took five shots. The game after, he did the same, this time in a rare scoreless performance.

Then, a two-game losing streak followed, magnifying what had already been a mounting struggle for Crawford.

Every game, he knew how many shots he took, and he’d go back and watch each shot. It was an abnormal practice for a player who’s never paid much attention to shooting percentages.

When he’s in a groove, he’s not thinking.

“Everything’s instinctive,” Crawford said. “Any dribble move, if I would have concentrated on it, I may have lost it. But since I’m not thinking about it, it’s like the ball just takes over. It’s just flowing.”

Recently, there had been no flow. There had been no swagger. “J-Crossover” stopped dribbling, often electing to set up teammates instead. The 1-on-1 moves ceased. He’d aim close-range shots, and they’d rattle out.

“Most of them are good shots, shots I’ve made my whole life,” Crawford said. “You try to play perfect, you play passive. Anybody who’s seen me play, that’s the last thing they’d say.”

As he tried to work his way out of it … 1-for-9… 0-for-5… 3-for-14… Crawford’s teammates had his back.

DeAndre Jordan said he didn’t feel for Crawford, though.

“Scorers go through slumps, and if I feel sorry for him, he’s going to feel sorry for himself,” Jordan said. “Jamal, he knows how to score the basketball. He’s just in a little funk right now. When he gets out of it, I feel sorry for whoever’s guarding him.”

As his teammates waited for that moment, Crawford’s head coach tried to actively make it happen. Rivers made Crawford the point guard late Saturday night, just so Crawford would have the ball in his hands.

Still, a 3-for-13 night followed. Crawford would make a shot, and it would seem – maybe – it would start the slump-buster.

“We’re thinking, ‘Good,’” Rivers said. “Then, he followed it up by missing a couple. It’s in his head, but it’ll get out.”

To get it out, Crawford had a new plan, the same one Wilkins suggested. It was the opposite school of thought. Rather than shoot more and scrutinize, he stepped back and reset.

Sunday, there were no more extra shots in the gym.

“Sometimes, you change your routines,” Rivers said before Monday’s matchup. “It’s amazing, one goes in and all of a sudden you remember you’ve scored 20,000 points. That’s what it’ll be for him. He needs a couple to go in and get his rhythm going.”

That night, a different aura surrounded Crawford.

The league’s No. 78 all-time scorer and No. 7 all-time 3-point shooter, who’d spend most of January tentative and unsure, confidently made his way around the arena. Rivers saw Crawford talking to Wilkins, and he figured, if nothing else, Crawford would get his shots up Monday night.

He started 0-for-3, but the attempts were more in rhythm. On his first shot, he took the defender off the dribble and got to the rim with contact, as the shot just rimmed out.

By halftime, Crawford was 2-for-8 with five points - not where he wanted to be, but with more signs of life.

In the third quarter, he quieted a 23-8 Hawks run with a bucket. As Austin Rivers carried the offense, finishing with a game-high 27 points, Crawford was slowly hitting his crescendo. His 11 points through three quarters were more than he had in any of his previous seven games.

“I just felt different,” Crawford said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people, but the Dominique talk really hit home. He’s one of the best players and scorers to ever play. He’s like, ‘I’ve been through so many slumps. When you start thinking about it, you’ve already stopped yourself.’ Let it go.”

But the game Doc Rivers was waiting for, the one where one basket would lead to another and another, hadn’t yet arrived – not until the fourth quarter.

With the Hawks cutting the Clippers’ lead to six, the closest they’d been all half, Crawford drilled a pull-up 18-footer. When Atlanta answered at the other end, Crawford returned the favor, pulling up for a 17-footer.

Suddenly, the floodgates opened.

“You could hear them in the fourth quarter – Austin and Jamal just kept saying over and over, ‘We’re not going to lose this game,’” Doc Rivers said. “They just kept saying it. Sometimes, you start believing.”

The Clippers’ next possession was a Crawford layup, and the next another pull-up jumper, with Crawford hitting the shot and absorbing the foul. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back possessions with Crawford points ensured the Hawks wouldn’t get within five points the rest of the night.

“We won, and he’s back,” Austin Rivers said. “Walking around right now, his confidence is Jamal-like.”

It may have only been one game, but Crawford couldn’t hide the excitement. He feels like he’s himself again, and he did what he set out to do before the night started.

“I said we were going to change the narrative,” Crawford said.