While most NBA players aspire to start, Crawford, in his 13th season in the league, realizes his value to a championship contender is as a scoring punch off the bench, and it’s a role he looks forward to returning to as soon as the injured J.J. Redick is ready to return.
“I can’t wait until he comes back because I get a chance to go back to the bench,” Crawford said. “We’ll hold down the fort until he gets back and healthy, until then we’ll get as many wins as possible.”
Redick is currently out with a bulging disk in his lower back and his absence has created a domino effect that effects the starting unit and the second team. Not only must Crawford start in place of Redick but Clippers coach Doc Rivers likes playing Redick with Jared Dudley in the starting lineup so with Redick out, Matt Barnes has also moved up into the starting lineup.
The combination of Crawford and Barnes is what made the Clippers’ second unit so potent earlier in the season and is a big reason that group is struggling right now. On Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Crawford and Barnes combined for 33 points while the Clippers’ second unit scored just 9 points and has been outscored 115-36 in the last three games.
“Our team is built for me to come off the bench and be that guy off the bench,” Crawford said. “Right now we’re a little undermanned and our second unit is struggling because of it.”
Crawford is arguably the favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year award (and should win as long as he doesn’t start more games than he comes off the bench). He is still one of the most respected scorers in the league and one of only four players, along with Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Bernard King to score 50 or more points with three different teams.
“When Jamal Crawford is coming across the court shooting it with confidence,” Kevin Durant said. “You are going to see the ball go in the rim.”
Crawford and Barnes were particularly potent from long range on Sunday as they combined to go 11-of-18 shooting from behind the arc, including a combined 9-of-13 on guarded 3-point attempts. Both players entered the game shooting 33.5 percent on all 3-point attempts.
“It’s important for us,” Rivers said of the long ball on Sunday. “It’s a part of our game that hasn’t really come through a lot this year but it did tonight. We stretched the floor pretty well. It’s funny we’ve been trying to get Matt to run to the corners all year and now he’s doing it and that’s a good shot for him and we can get it in transition and when he does run there that’s why [DeAndre Jordan] gets the dunks because the guards have to make choice to take D.J. or leave the guy in the corner.”
No one took the recently passed trading deadline harder or more personally than Barnes. He was rumored to be involved in a variety of deals and fully expected to be dealt by Thursday.
Barnes, who signed a 3-year, $12 million deal in the offseason, says he’s playing more freely now than he did before, not because he no longer has to worry about being traded but because he thinks this could be his last season in Los Angeles and doesn’t want to hold anything back if it is.
“Since the trade deadline I think I know my days are numbered here,” Barnes said. “So, I’m going to out there and have fun and play as a hard as I can and help the team in any way. I think I was thinking too much and trying to read into trades and this and that.”
Chris Paul pushed the Clippers to sign Barnes to a minimum deal when no one was looking at him before last season and they both talked about re-signing in the offseason as their children became fast friends. Player movement is part of life in the NBA but Barnes wasn’t the only one on his phone checking to see if he was traded on that charter flight. Every other player was too. When Barnes thought he might have been traded, it was Blake Griffin who was on his phone next to him telling him that nothing was official yet.
“Trades and stuff that’s the business of basketball, but the good thing is our team, we talk, we talk a lot more than we used to in the past,” Paul said. “We try not to leave anything unsaid . . . If we’re going to win this thing, this is who we’re going to win it with. Nobody’s going anywhere. We’re going to each other.”