Chris Paul has proved during his career that he can single-handedly win a playoff game, Blake Griffin may be the difference between a first-round exit and a deep postseason run, but who is the Los Angeles Clippers’ playoff X-factor?
Crawford’s importance encompasses every quarter of every playoff game, especially in Round 1 against the Golden State Warriors. Now that Andrew Bogut is out injured for the Warriors, Doc Rivers can expect a lot of non-traditional lineups. While that allows him to counter with big lineups featuring Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Danny Granger, it likely means more playing time for the guards, especially Crawford.
Rivers will likely call upon Crawford to be a difference-maker off the bench, something he has excelled at for years. His offensive game is extremely potent, but he mostly relies on his jumper. Still, Crawford’s ability to catch fire is something no opposing team wants to see. According to 82games.com, Crawford averaged 31.5 points per 48 minutes in crunch time, ranking 31st in the entire league.
In addition to his amazing crunch-time numbers, Crawford had one of the best seasons of his career, leading all bench players in scoring.
The slender but explosive guard scored an impressive 18.6 points per game, handed out 3.2 assists and recorded the second-highest true-shooting percentage (55.6) of his career. To make things even more impressive, he got to the foul line 4.7 times per contest, scoring an easy four points each game.
In a league devoid of elite shooting guards, Crawford’s versatility and production made him one of the league’s most potent offensive guards.
Whether it was a corner catch-and-shoot three, pick-and-roll set or a clear out isolation play, it seemed Crawford would find a way to score. That attribute kept him on the floor, even sometimes playing small forward with Paul and Darren Collison in the backcourt.
Obviously, Rivers trusts Crawford.
He has allowed him to play to his strengths offensively, and that has benefited not only the Clippers, but Crawford as well. Crawford is once again in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year award this season. It isn’t even a doubt to Rivers, who “certainly” thinks Crawford should win the award.
Questions begin to arise when Crawford’s jumper is not falling. He is not going to provide much other than shooting and slashing. When Crawford is on the floor, the Clippers are extremely vulnerable defensively and have struggled at times on the glass. Essentially, if he isn’t scoring, Crawford is either having no impact on the game or putting the team at a disadvantage.
Another problem that has plagued Crawford his entire career is his shot selection. To his credit, Crawford has been able to limit his bad shots and play quite effectively with Griffin and Paul. However, when he is frustrated and not hitting shots, he will begin to force the envelope, over-penetrating and taking ill-advised contested jumpers.
Shot selection aside, Crawford’s minutes are based on his offense, everyone knows that.
The defense is what concerns Rivers, who has barely said a word to Crawford about his offense, according to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. "It's always defense and that's it," Crawford said. "Defense and he always tells me to be aggressive."
The role of the X-factor is typically one that can change and might not even be quantifiable. The exact opposite is true in this case. Crawford’s scoring and slashing ability is a deadly weapon Rivers has in his arsenal. There is no question Crawford will find room to score, but he also must be efficient. Limiting turnovers and picking his attacks will be vital.
That is the equation Crawford needs to solve. When he does, the Clippers are extremely difficult to beat, and the team will have an X-factor very few teams have the luxury of pulling off the bench.