Jamal Crawford's had an eventful spring, to say the least. On the court, he took home his second Sixth Man of the Year Award—the first player to do so with two different teams—and pushed the Los Angeles Clippers within sniffing distance of the franchise's first-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
Off the court, Crawford was witness to the madness that engulfed the Clippers in the aftermath of then-team owner Donald Sterling's race-related fiasco.
Things have calmed down considerably for Crawford and the Clippers of late. Since their exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clips have been sold to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and seen Sterling bow out without taking further legal action against the league or his wife, Shelly.
Crawford, meanwhile, has returned to his beloved Seattle for the summer to spend time with his family, work with his foundation and prepare for his summer pro-am league in the Emerald City. Bleacher Report recently caught up with Crawford by phone to talk about the postseason, being a "super sub," talking trash and more.
Bleacher Report: Have you been keeping track of the playoffs since you guys bowed out?
Jamal Crawford: Oh, for sure. No question. I watch all the playoff games.
JC: Yeah, I think even more than the 15 points and four blocks and seven rebounds he had, just the lift he gave the team. He’s out there standing on really one good leg. He’s not all the way fully healthy and he’s still giving it his all. That can’t help but inspire a team and give you a lift. Kudos to him, for sure, especially because I had the same injury, so I know how that feels. He did a remarkable job. It was almost like a dream. I bet that was one of the games he’ll remember most out of all the games he’s had in his career, even ones where he’s scored more points.
B/R: What was it like to play through that injury when you had it?
JC: It’s tough, because the mental part is the last part of the injury and you just don’t know if you can do the same thing, the same move, the same cuts you were doing before you got injured, and that’s the part that’s always in the back of your mind. Once you get past that, you’re trying to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do. I think that, like I said, all of that goes into being mentally prepared for that, mentally strong enough to actually go through it.
B/R: Have you played with a lot of guys in your career who’ve had the toughness to fight through things like that and still be effective on the court?
JC: Oh for sure. I’ve played with them, and I’ve seen guys not play who didn’t have that type of injury, so I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, and I get it. Everybody’s pain tolerance and threshold for pain is a little bit different. You can’t judge anybody by that, but he definitely was inspirational for his team.
B/R: Any guys in particular that you’d count among the tougher ones you’ve played with in your career?
JC: Oh, I played with Charles Oakley. Man, I’ve played with so many guys. Charles Oakley’s the one that jumped out at me. He just personified toughness. He would just do whatever. He’d just tape it up old-school. Just tape it up and go out there, no matter what was going on.
B/R: Do you see any guys in the game today who have that same toughness that Oak brought to the table?
JC: Oh yeah, definitely. You see different guys. Obviously, you don’t know, everybody on your team, but just different guys from around the league that you get a chance to see, from the things they’ll say to you, like “He’s a strong dude.” Or even Allen Iverson. As little as he was, he was tough.
B/R: What’d you guys learn from that series against OKC and their stars?
JC: Obviously, with those two and a guy like Ibaka, they basically have three stars. It’s kind of tough since it’s a “pick your poison” thing. Durant’s going to score over 30 every night he steps on the court. Whether he’s shooting good or not, he’s going to give you that type of score. Westbrook’s going to give you 25, no matter if he’s shooting good or not.
But then sometimes, you pay so much attention to those dudes that the other guys step up and have a big game, a good shooting game. Caron Butler, [Reggie] Jackson, those guys. It’s just a pick-your-poison-type of deal. If you want to let everybody else get off and concentrate on those two or if you want those two to get off and concentrate on everybody else.
B/R: From your experience, which do you think works better?
JC: I think trying to control everybody else, honestly, because most times, you know, even if two guys combine for 60, that’s still not enough to win a game. Sixty points has never won a game, from what I know, so I think if you can control everybody else and keep them down in the 2, 4, 5 range, that helps your chances.
B/R: There’ve been a lot of great performances from guys off the bench in these playoffs, you included. How important is bench scoring to a team’s postseason success?
JC: I think it’s very important. Teams like that, they’re built to have two guys, three guys who can really get double figures night in and night out. But for the most part, I think you have that guy who can score 20, 25, 30 points off your bench, I think a lot of championship contenders have that when you look at guys like Ginobili with the Spurs or when Harden was with OKC. Same type of deal. You know, you have the third guy who comes off your bench who’s good for 20, 25 points. In a playoff game, that’s huge.
B/R: What did it mean to you to win your second Sixth Man of the Year this year?
JC: It definitely meant more than the first time because of the level of team I was on. Obviously, being on a championship contender, being further in my career, obviously it’s really cool to be able to do something like that. But it doesn’t happen without my teammates and coaches. Yeah, my name’s on the trophy, but there’s no way I get it if I’m getting 20 points on a bad team or if I don’t have teammates getting me the ball and setting screens in the right places or coach running great plays and the staff preparing me, watching film and things of that nature, so it’s definitely a team award.
B/R: Is there any part of you that still wants to start?
JC: Sometimes, for sure. I get it. I totally get it. I have no problem coming off the bench and being that guy, but I had an opportunity to start this year while some of our guys were down and that was fun as well. I think you’re able to pace yourself a little bit better. You don’t have to rush as much. You’re able to pick your spots because you know you’ll be out there for a long time. Off the bench, when you come in, you have to have an immediate impact, whether that’s scoring or just having a positive impact. You have to do that every single night.
B/R: What’s it like trying to switch between those mindsets and between those roles?
JC: Yeah, well, the first game I started this year, it was weird because I was like, I didn’t want to shoot when I was out there with Chris [Paul] and Blake [Griffin] and DJ [DeAndre Jordan] and those guys. And they were like, “No, no, no, you still have to be your aggressive self,” but I was trying to tone myself down, you know, because I’m like, “Well I’m not out there with the second unit, so I’m not going to be as aggressive,” but they wanted me to have that aggressiveness, and that would help them get off as well just to start the game. Once I figured that out as a starter, I did pretty well. We won a lot of games as well.
B/R: There’s been a lot made of what Lance Stephenson said to try to get in LeBron James' head during the Eastern Conference Finals. Have you ever been one to try to get in your opponents’ heads?
JC: No. Actually, I don’t say anything. I don’t talk on the court to the opposition unless it’s something quick, but I don’t talk trash. But if somebody says something to me, I can have an earful for them. I don’t talk trash. If I make the shot, if I make a half-court shot, I don’t say anything to anybody, but if they start talking trash, I’ve never been one to back down.
B/R: Do you ever find yourself a common target of trash talk?
JC: No, not at all, actually. Obviously, in the playoffs, you get more conversation or, you know, guys trying to be physical or whatever their scheme might be. Other than that, no.
B/R: Are there any guys you’ve encountered who you’ve found to be particularly good at getting in other guys’ heads?
JC: Gary Payton. Gary Payton is one of the best trash-talkers I’ve ever seen. [Kevin] Garnett, obviously. I think those guys are two of the best trash-talkers ever.
B/R: Did you ever get the chance to go head-to-head with Gary Payton in a pickup setting or something like that?
JC: Oh yeah, definitely. Not in a pro-am setting, but he took me under his wing. I used to work out with him a lot. I definitely had that setting with him. Also, hearing him talk trash. I would go watch him in playoff games and go watch him at different games and ask him like, “What’d you say to him? What’d you say to him?” Gary’s a guy who’s never going to back down and always has his mouth full, so it’s fun to see him do that.
B/R: Did he ever try to talk trash to you when you guys were working together?
JC: No, no he didn’t. I was more like his little brother, so he wasn’t talking trash to me. He was just putting me through stuff. But before we started working out, we were at the mall actually, the big mall in Seattle. One of my closest friends, one of my best friends is like his nephew, so we bumped into Gary at the mall.
I didn’t know this, but one of my closest friends said he’d been pumping me up when I was in high school to Gary, saying like, “I don’t care. You’re the Glove, but you can’t guard him” and all that. So when Gary saw all of us together, he went down the line with the friends I was with. He was like, “You, I’ve already played you. You were at my camp.” He pointed to me and was like, “And you! You come see me, because I keep hearing all this I can’t guard you.” He went on a whole rant. It was a classic story.
B/R: Was he able to guard you?
JC: We never got to that game. I’m sure he would’ve been. I was 16, 17 and this was like ‘96, ‘97, when they went to the Finals. He was truly “The Glove,” so I’m sure he would’ve.
B/R: Missed opportunity!
JC: Yeah, right?
B/R: Any teams or players that you’ve been paying particularly close attention to in these playoffs?
JC: No, I watch everybody. Honestly, I just watch all four teams every day, religiously. No favorites. Obviously, my favorite’s the Clippers. I wish we would’ve been there, but besides that…
B/R: Is there anything in particular that you’d like to see Doc and the front office do to improve your championship prospects next season?
JC: No. I thought we had a great opportunity this year. There’s nothing I would look back on and say, “Oh, if we had this, we’d have won.” I think he did a heck of a job keeping us prepared, just focused. He did a masterful job, actually. I just think, with the way our team is constructed, hopefully we can keep it together and keep moving.
I think that’s the difference between teams in the '80s and teams in the '90s, early '90s, and today. Those guys had the chance to grow together, and they played together for, you know, seven, eight, nine years. It was like clockwork. Now, there’s so much turnover, it’s tough to get that continuity and keep guys together, with the business of it.
B/R: Is there anything in particular in your game that you’re hoping to polish up this summer for next season?
JC: Just my whole game, honestly. I want to be a better player than I was this year. I told the Clippers when I first went there that I would be better than I’ve been. Last year, I thought I did that, and this year, I think I can really step forward. I just want to continue to improve and continue to get better. My overall game, offensively, defensively, getting easier baskets, continue to work on my defense, continue to work on staying in great shape and continue to get better.
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