LOS ANGELES – When the L.A. Clippers initially signed 32-year-old Jamal Crawford back in 2012 and again last summer at 36-years of age, they expected him to be a much-needed scoring punch off their bench. After winning the Sixth Man of the Year award for the 2009-10 season, Crawford has done nothing but light up opposing teams as a non-starter for the most part, winning a pair of Sixth Man awards in the process.
Since signing with the Clippers, Crawford has averaged 15.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.8 three-pointers per game on 41.% shooting. In 352 contests, he’s been a starter in a mere 34 of them, and the continued production off the mound has helped him win the Sixth Man of the Year award in both the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons.
While he’s easily one of the most explosive players in the NBA, Crawford has dealt with some ups and downs throughout the 82-game grind of a season, but has always stayed true to himself to get out of those slumps. The Seattle-native himself never feels like he’s stuck in a shooting rut.
“Not really a slump because I feel like things can change that,” Crawford said last month on what he feels when his shots stop falling. “And its weird because I know that any scorer, great scorer or bad scorer, if you shoot long enough, you’re gonna get through it. It’s inevitable, even the best players that’s ever played. Its frustrating to go through it, but you just have to find a way and stay with it.”
So what helps Crawford feel like he’s got it going?
“Everybody’s different. For me, if I see a free throw go through, I feel like I’m hot. But other guys, they have to see four or five shots go in and they feel like they’re hot.”
Throughout his career, Crawford’s innate ability to score from any spot on the court has earned him a reputation of a ‘bad-shot maker.’ Whether it be a bail-out three-pointer from 35-feet at the end of the shot-clock or a running shot over multiple defenders, Crawford has seemingly done it all on the offensive side of the floor. However, head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t see it that way or mind some of the tough shots Crawford is sporadically forced to take and make.
“I think one of the best decisions I’ve made when I took this job is deciding never to tell Jamal ‘bad shot,'” said coach Rivers. “Never, because I think a guy like that you gotta let him do what he does. So there are nights where that [shot] doesn’t go in, and you don’t even say it then because he may make one.”
After seeing the work Crawford puts in during practice and how it shows during the game, his teammate of five years in Blake Griffin has developed the utmost trust in him.
“Honestly, he can miss five shots in a row – I told him in the first half – he can miss 10 shots straight, but I’ve seen him hit the next 20. Pick up [basketball], practice, whatever it is. So there’s not really a time where you don’t think the next shot is going in. You’re just kind of waiting for it to happen.”
These comments from Griffin are coming after Crawford’s latest offensive explosion where he scored 17 of his 25 points in the final 13 minutes of the game against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night and scored 17 of his 19 points in the final 14 minutes of the game against the Boston Celtics.
“When Jamal is hot, it just forces the whole other team to pay attention. When he gets hot like that and he starts to look for guys and he is patient, less of those shots come to him. It’s tough to guard. He can shoot it at any time. He kind of waits and can put up unorthodox shots that nobody else can really hit. But he is still looking for guys. It just breaks teams.”
The lesser talked-about but just as important impact that Griffin mentioned is the ability to seek out the open man once spacing is created, putting pressure on opponents once he gets hot.
“Teams can’t just load up on him. They have to figure out how to play him.”
The most recent instant came against the Celtics after Crawford made back-to-back three-pointers near the end of the third quarter to give the Clippers their first lead since late in the first quarter. Up 72-71 with the ball, 35 seconds left in the quarter, and a chance to go two-for-one, Crawford and Doc Rivers confirmed with each other to go for a quick shot. What Rivers had in mind, however, was completely different from Crawford’s 30-foot triple from the side of the center-court logo.
“Jamal is telling me two-for-one, and I say ‘yes,'” said Doc Rivers. “But I thought it was going to be a pick-and-roll, and then he launches it, and it goes in. It ended up being a two-for-one but not the one that i thought we were gonna get.
“It’s great, because there’s no defending that.”
Crawford explained the exchange from his point-of-view, including why he let the contested shot from 30-feet fly.
“We talked about it. I said if they go quick, I’m going two-for-one. It was a little deeper [than expected],” Crawford disclosed with a smile. “But when you zone out, you don’t even see the line, it’s just, ‘Okay I’m in range, let it go.’ And that was it. Luckily it went in.”
“It’s really hard to shut him down when he gets going,” said Bradley, who Doc Rivers called the best on-ball defender after the game. “I could see it in his eyes. He had the confidence, especially once he hit the three on me. I could see it in his bounce, when he had the ball in his hands, it’s hard to stop somebody with that much confidence that can score like that.”
“It’s hard to stop a guy like Jamal. He’s known for that, he can get hot real quick,” added Smart.
If those first three triples weren’t enough, Crawford capped off his spectacular night with the 50th four-point play of his career, adding to his NBA record.
“Like Blake [Griffin] said, I play a crazy style game, it’s not good for analytics or anything, but it works for me so…”
I think I shoot it when the defense isn’t really expecting it, like, ‘there’s no way he’s shooting it,’ and by the time they try to react, I’m already in shooting motion and that’s where the contact comes from.”
This is the scoring impact Crawford has as the only three-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner. It’s an impact that, at nearly age 37, will be tough to replicate on a night-to-night basis, but one that he’s fully capable of producing.
“I think I’m at my best whenever I’m not thinking. I’m just relaxing, just playing, just hooping, it’s just basketball and I’ve done it my whole life.”