SAN FRANCISCO — If Doc Rivers is right about Jamal Crawford, the Clippers backup guard could be on the verge of something big Sunday at Oracle Arena.
A big scoring game. A big defensive game. Just what the Clippers need in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series against the Golden State Warriors.
"I thought he had a breakthrough basketball-wise (in Game 3), which is big for us," the Clippers coach said. "I think he’ll be even better on Sunday."
That could be important for the Clippers, who have a 2-1 lead in their first-round matchup against the Warriors. Crawford came off the bench in the first quarter of Thursday’s game and nailed his first two shots – both three-pointers - to give the Clippers an early lead.
It gave Crawford a boost of confidence that his shot was working. He made 5 of 11 attempts in almost 20 minutes for a series-high 13 points.
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"I’m getting more comfortable," he said Saturday after the team practiced at the University of San Francisco. "I know if I do a certain move and get to a certain stance, I’m comfortable letting the ball go at that moment. It feels like the game’s natural to me again."
As much as the Clippers need Crawford’s scoring, Rivers has been equally impressed by his improved defense. Crawford, a 14-year NBA veteran, has never been known as a strong defender, but in Rivers’ system, he has performed well.
Rivers said he didn’t know much about Crawford beyond his reputation as a creative scorer, but he found out this season that Crawford could become a good defender in the right system.
"From afar, you look at this guy that everyone said just scored," Rivers said. "Us coaches can go into that negative basement at times. You think the guy just scores, that’s all he wants to do, he’s selfish. He’s anything but.
"He’s never going to be (center DeAndre Jordan) or Tony Allen, but he’s giving the effort and he’s in the right spot. That’s all I ask."
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Crawford, 34, put in the work to understand what was expected of him. The Clippers rely on defensive rotations and being in the right position on the floor, and Crawford has worked to meet expectations.
But mostly he credits Rivers.
"That’s a credit to him and his staff," he said. "It’s to the point now where I’m mad if I’m in the wrong position or I’m mad if I get scored on. I don’t want to let the team down. I take pride in defense now. He and his staff have done something that’s never really clicked with me, and that’s showing how important defense is."
Crawford said he doesn’t expect to be limited by a strained left calf that forced him to miss a number of games in the regular season. Having two days off between games has allowed him time to recover.
"The days off definitely helped," he said. "Come tomorrow it’ll be in better shape. We’re confident about it."