Jamal Crawford Emerging As Clippers’ X-Factor Against Spurs


February 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) shoots a basket as San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich watches during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers lack depth and that’s all there is to it. So even though they have an elite starting five, Jamal Crawford providing a burst of offensive energy off the bench has never been more important.

The Clippers were able to finish the regular season as strong as anyone. They won 14 of their last 15 games, including seven straight heading into the playoffs. Yet they were without their vital 6th man, Jamal Crawford, for practically an entire month.

Crawford’s absence was the result of a calf injury, and when he finally returned on April 7th it was clear he’d need some time to readjust before the postseason.

He shot just 2-0f-7 in his first game back against the Los Angeles Lakers, followed by three more performances to close out the season where he failed to surpass 33 percent shooting. However, that’s perfectly understandable. Every player needs some time to acclimatise themselves to playing with the after effects of an injury.

At least, that was the case for a few days.

Then, in the Clippers’ 107-92 destruction of the San Antonio Spurs in game one, Jamal Crawford found his feet again.

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He played just over 22 minutes, but that was all that was needed. Doc Rivers realised he’d need to use his starters as much as possible in order to secure the series opening win he needed, and by the second quarter he opted to use Crawford as the source for virtually all his bench scoring.

Crawford made 7 of his 10 shots (including 3-of-4 from behind the arc) and totalled 17 points on the night. The rest of the Clippers’ bench weren’t quite as productive, though, finishing with a mere 5 points combined.

Even if Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combine for 50 a game, it’s an awful lot harder to find long term success in the playoffs if your whole second unit (bar one) can’t even muster up 10 points. Or, when you compare them to the Spurs, who averaged more than 40 bench points per game this year, it’s clear that Crawford’s quick trigger is needed now more than ever.

And it doesn’t matter that Jamal Crawford is 35 years old, because he’s still an absolute nightmare to guard. Even for the Spurs’ top wing defenders like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, Crawford showed he can get past anyone.

Whenever Manu Ginobili tried to guard him it was just too easy for Crawford to blow past, cut-back, then knock down a 15 footer right in his face. At the end of the first quarter, he crossed-up Manu all the way from half court before burying a jump shot at the elbow with a second to go.

Crawford even managed to scramble past Leonard at times, in order to create just enough space to get off his shot when high screens from Blake or DeAndre Jordan didn’t work.

And there really aren’t many players who can drop Kawhi Leonard.

For a player like Crawford — who is known for being both a killer shooter but a streaky one — confidence is vital.

He knows where his abilities lie, and playing against the defending NBA champions in the playoffs, after having just four games to prepare, is nothing that will deter him from playing with his usual fearlessness.

Feb 11, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) looks back after making a shot against the Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Clippers won 110-95. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Crawford’s teammates had a lot of praise (per Rowan Kavner of NBA.com) for his performance against the Spurs Sunday night, which emphasised his importance to L.A.’s chances of advancing to the second round.

Griffin said the following:

"“Jamal is one of those guys that I don’t worry about that much as far as rhythm goes, just because it seems like he could not play for a year and come out on the court and give you 20, 30 points on any given night. The way he played [Sunday] was unbelievable, and it looks like he hasn’t even lost a step. He worked hard to get back, and I think it showed.”"

Blake’s comments on how Crawford can go without playing for a year and then drop 20 or 30 points may be a slight exaggeration, but after Sunday, it doesn’t actually seem too far from the truth.

In terms of Crawford’s role, Doc Rivers had the following to say about his performance off the bench:

"“We need him to score, and I thought he put a lot of pressure on their defense. The whole bench may not play a ton of minutes, but they’re going to have their little parts in this series and in every series we play.”"

What Rivers had to say is worth noting. Simply because no matter how well Crawford plays, the rest of the bench is still the Clippers’ glaring weakness.

L.A.’s starting five put on an athletic, pick-and-roll clinic of how to take down the Spurs, but they’ll need more if they want to win this series. And in order to maintain the aggression that the Clippers’ played with in game one, the bench will need to step up to at least play a few extra minutes each night.

But judging by the lack of faith Rivers showed in them on Sunday, that’s easier said than done.

Meaning that now emerging as their new and much needed x-factor, is the burst of energy and crossovers that is Jamal Crawford.

Next: Clippers-Spurs Game 1, By The Numbers