HANG TIME WEST – It was the first quarter of his first game back in the opening lineup, Dec. 14 at Washington. Jamal Crawford remembers the specific time and place because he doesn’t exactly have a long history of people telling him to shoot more.
“It was kind of weird,” Crawford said. “It was encouraging to hear it, though.”
Coach Doc Rivers called him over to the Clippers bench during a dead ball. Crawford seemed too concerned about fitting in with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Yes, the same Crawford who spent all last season as their teammate, the same Crawford in his 14th season, the same Crawford who every other day seemed eternally aggressive as one of the premier bench-scoring threats of his generation.
“C’mon now,” Crawford recalls Rivers telling him, “I didn’t bring you in here to just be passive.”
And that was it. End of conversation, end of adjustment period.
Crawford, a leading contender for Sixth Man of the Year a few weeks ago, and pretty much every season, quickly re-configured his approach to become the starting shooting guard averaging 19.1 points in the eight games in the starting lineup. The Clippers, not coincidentally, are 6-2 in that time, with losses by two points at Golden State and four at Portland on the second night of a back-to-back.
He is not shooting well, at 38.6 percent in the eight games as starter, but passive? Crawford is not that either. Try 17.5 shots in 37.2 minutes per game, more than leading scorer Griffin is taking (15.9) in fewer minutes (36.6) overall and Paul (14.7 in 35.3 minutes).
“When you’re a starter, you can be a little bit more patient,” Crawford said. “You don’t have to rush as much. Off the bench, you have to make something happen. It’s not necessarily as a scorer, but you have to have an immediate positive impact. When you’re starting, you can kind of feel the game out a little bit better.”
The chain reaction started when J.J. Redick fractured his right hand and tore ligaments in his right wrist in a fall Nov. 29 at Sacramento. Willie Green initially took Redick’s spot, but Rivers eventually turned to Crawford, the 2009-10 Sixth Man of the Year in Atlanta who had started six times in 291 appearances the previous four seasons with the Hawks, Trail Blazers and Clippers.
“I don’t know if there’s much (difference),” Rivers said of Crawford’s dual roles. “I think the biggest difference would be that with the bench, he knows he has to be the guy…. I had to remind him that he was a really good offensive player. You usually don’t have to tell Jamal that. But when you’re playing with Blake and Chris, he was overpassing. ‘No, I want you to be the same Jamal with the starters or not.’ But he is more conscious of who he’s playing with when he’s with the starters. I don’t want him to get too used to that, quite honestly. I can’t wait to get him back on the bench so he can come in and be our sparkplug.”