The Phoenix Suns had a growing lead Wednesday night as Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets tried to move toward the 3-point line in an offensive possession. He certainly tried. The problem was Jae Crowder had blocked Gordon’s road with his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame. There was pushing and arguing, so that a whistle of whistles and a gentle rattle appeared in danger of turning into a full-blown fracas.
Of course, it was not surprising that Crowder, a frontman who shines like the Suns’ resident enforcer, was in the middle of it. Crowder and Gordon were assessed for technical errors.
“Honestly, it’s coming to me, I’m not looking for it,” Crowder said of his hobbies. “Other teams are just trying to be physical with me, so try to get me hit. I do not know if they know, but i like that style of play i like trash talk i like all this because it definitely gets me started and i think my team definitely delivers it a little bit, the energy of it . ”
The Suns scrub up on the Nuggets – and Nikola Jokic, the NBA’s most influential player – in their semifinal series of the Western Conference and sail to a pair of crooked victories ahead of Game 3 on Friday in Denver.
And while the Suns are driven by their backcourt tandem by Devin Booker and Chris Paul, Crowder has added an extra layer of feistiness and playoff experience. Most of the time he does his job in the quiet corners of the game: defense, rebound, screening. But when the need arises, he will surface to hit a 3-pointer or get in the face of an opponent. It was no coincidence that TNT stuck a microphone on him for his broadcast of the Suns’ 123-98 victory in Game 2 in Phoenix.
“Jae is never phased out of anything,” Paul said.
In five straight playoff wins for the Suns, dating to the middle of their series in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Crowder has averaged 13.8 points and 5 rebounds a game, while shooting 50 percent off the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range. On Wednesday, he did not put up spot numbers – he scored 11 points – but chose his spots. He made the team’s first two field goals and then opened the second half with a 3-pointer that seemed to signal that a blowout was brewing.
“That’s how we just try to play,” Crowder said. “We try to impose our will early.”
Son of Corey Crowder, a former NBA player for the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, Crowder, 30, grew up outside of Atlanta (where he was an easily recruited high school prospect). He attended two junior colleges before landing in Marquette, where he was the Big East Player of the Year as a senior. His nomadic basketball life continued as the Cleveland Cavaliers traded him to the Dallas Mavericks shortly after they selected him with the 34th pick in the 2012 draft.
Crowder has played for seven teams for nine seasons, though he may be stuck in Phoenix for a while. He signed a three-year deal worth about $ 29 million as a free agent in November after leaving Miami, and his value is clear: he does a little of everything, which includes defending multiple positions and stretching the floor as a 3-point threat. And for a young team with big goals, he provides a level of physicality that only comes with experience.
Consider the Suns’ series with the Lakers, which featured some of a telenovela starring Crowder and LeBron James. Throughout the first three games of the series, Crowder struggled with his jumper (which can happen) and shot 7 of 27 off the field, and James went straight at him in the final stages of the Lakers ‘Game 3 victory as James’ teammates egged him on.
Other players may have folded like origami. Instead, Crowder returned to Game 4 and scored 17 points – in front of an even crowd at the Staples Center, no less – as the Suns equalized the series.
In the Suns’ final victory in Game 6, Crowder scored 18 points on 6 of 9 shots from the 3-point line (he tried not to shoot inside the arc). During a break in the game with less than a minute left, Crowder danced salsa directly in front of James – a kind of tribute to a dance in which James appears in an advertisement to Mountain Dew – and was pushed out. Crowder, who is rarely boring, sprinted to the locker room like Usain Bolt.
Afterwards he posted a few photos of himself makes salsa on his Instagram account (@ Bossmann99), along with a caption: “DO NOT HAVE MUCH FUN WHEN THE RABBIT GETS THE GUN.” As if to make it clear that he had created the post himself, he signed it, “Big 99” – a reference to his uniform number.
“I felt like we were a little bit respected in game 3 or whatever,” Crowder said, “so I did what I had to do in the final game.”
While promising to do salsa with fans in Phoenix if the Suns win the championship, Crowder said he was trying to exercise a little more restraint with opposing players at this stage of the playoffs. He has already paid his share of fines.
“I have to be smart,” he said. “I can not always bite the bait and continue to give money back to the league.”
Against the Nuggets, the Suns win by balance. In both victories, all five starters have scored in double figures. They pass the ball and function as a whole, a high-speed machine with synchronized parts. Crowder is one among many, but important in its own way.
“It makes the task much more difficult for our opponent when everyone is rolling,” Crowder said.