In Jae Crowder, the Suns Have an Enforcer With Some Flair


The Phoenix Suns had a growing lead on Wednesday night when Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets tried to move toward the 3-point line on an offensive possession. He definitely tried. The problem was Jae Crowder had blocked Gordon’s path with his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame. There was shoving and arguing, then a flurry of whistles and a mild tussle appeared in danger of turning into a full-blown fracas.

It was no surprise, of course, that Crowder, a forward who moonlights as the Suns’ resident enforcer, was in the middle of it. Crowder and Gordon were assessed technical fouls.

“Honestly, it comes at me, I don’t seek it,” Crowder said of his extracurriculars. “Other teams just try to be physical with me, try to get me riled up. I don’t know if they know it, but I like that style of play. I like to trash talk. I like all of that because it definitely gets me going, and I think my team definitely feeds off it a little bit, the energy of it.”

The Suns are roughing up the Nuggets — and Nikola Jokic, the N.B.A.’s freshly minted most valuable player — in their Western Conference semifinal series, cruising to a pair of lopsided wins ahead of Game 3 on Friday in Denver.

In five straight playoff wins for the Suns, dating to the middle of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Crowder has averaged 13.8 points and 5 rebounds a game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range. On Wednesday, he did not put up gaudy numbers — he scored 11 points — but picked his spots. He made the team’s first two field goals, then opened the second half with a 3-pointer that seemed to signal that a blowout was brewing.

“That’s just how we try to play,” Crowder said. “We try to impose our will early.”

The son of Corey Crowder, a former N.B.A. player for the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs, Crowder, 30, grew up outside of Atlanta (where he was a lightly recruited high school prospect). He attended two junior colleges before he landed at Marquette, where he was the Big East Player of the Year as a senior. His nomadic basketball life continued when 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 in nine seasons, though he may stick around 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 bit 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 comes only with experience.

“I felt like we got disrespected a little bit in Game 3 or whatever,” Crowder said, “so I did what I had to do in the closing game.”

While he pledged to do the salsa with fans in Phoenix if the Suns win the championship, Crowder said he was trying to exercise a bit more restraint with opposing players at this stage of the playoffs. He has already paid his share of fines.

“I’ve got to be smart,” he said. “I can’t always bite the bait and keep giving money back to the league.”

Against the Nuggets, the Suns are winning with balance. In both wins, all five starters have scored in double figures. They are passing the ball and operating as a collective whole, a high-speed machine with synchronized parts. Crowder is one among many, but important in his own way.

“It makes the task that much more difficult for our opponent when everybody’s rolling,” Crowder said.



Sahred From Source link Sports

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