BOSTON (CBS) – Jordan Crawford said over the off-season he wanted to be a leader on the 2013-14 Boston Celtics.
It was a statement that some scoffed at. Crawford’s reputation was that of a score-first (and second and third)-type player that barely fed teammates and had little to no interest in playing defense.
With the veteran leadership of the Celtics gone, those enthralled with the “tank talk” saw Crawford as the perfect player for a team looking to lose games. He’d make it interesting by attacking the basket with his reckless abandon and entertaining (but often ill-advised) funky fadeaways, but in the end the Celtics would still likely be on the short end of the scoreboard more times than not.
That was the plan for everyone else, but not the Celtics. And certainly not Crawford, who was dead serious about being a leader.
And though it’s still a little surprising, it shouldn’t be that when the Celtics opened the season 0-4 and new head coach Brad Stevens was looking or a spark at the point guard position with Rajon Rondo still on the shelf, he turned to Crawford.
That selfish shooting guard is gone, and a calming point guard has emerged. In the four games since Crawford was inserted as the C’s starting point guard, Boston is 4-0. Crawford is a +18 when on the floor, dishing out 23 assists to just five turnovers, highlighted by Monday night’s 10-assist showing in the Celtics’ 120-105 win over the Magic — the second time Boston has come out victorious against one of the NBA’s better defensive teams in the last four days.
Points? Crawford had those too Monday night, chipping in with 16, eight of which came in the first quarter. The only thing missing from his 32 minutes on the floor was a turnover, as Crawford turned in his third turnover-less game of the season.
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When asked about his passing ability after Monday’s win, Crawford wanted to know what took everyone so long to pick up on it.
“Y’all are just now noticing that, huh?” he said. “I was blessed with court-vision. When a teammate is open, you find him.”
“I feel like I’m a point guard,” he said confidently. “That’s other people that list me as a shooting guard.”
At 6-4 Crawford is bigger than your average point guard, which helps him not only get to his spots but get his shot off when he does take it. He also commands plenty of attention when he puts his head down and heads to the hole, opening opportunities for teammates on the wing.
“I think he’s really doing a great job,” Stevens said on Monday. “He’s got a lot of confidence out there. He’s always been a guy that had good confidence about him, but I think the thing that I’ve been most pleased with through really the entire time I’ve been around him is his consistency. That’s an area in which you have to really embrace if you’re going to be a good point guard because everybody’s depending on you to be reliable on a day-to-day basis.”
Jeff Green, who was on the receiving end of two of Crawford’s 10 assists on Monday, sees a much different game from the one Crawford brought to Boston at last season’s trade deadline.
“I think he’s more mature. I know he had a bad rep coming from the Wizards as just a one-way player. Now he’s learning the game and playing both ends,” said Green. “He has the mentality to turn it on when need be, and I think he’s learning and picking his spots very well.”
“He’s been figuring out ways to get people involved and when to attack,” Green said of Crawford’s ball movement. “By nature he’s a scorer and he’s showing that in phases, but he can also get people in position for them to score. You saw that tonight and the last couple of games. We just have to continue to feed off of him.”
Crawford should get credit for another assist that won’t show up in the box score, as his emergence at the point has allowed Avery Bradley to move back to his more natural shooting guard position. Bradley has looked much more comfortable on both ends of the floor the last four games, and he broke out offensively on Monday with 24 points against Orlando.
“I think everybody is just playing off each other,” said Crawford. “We have a lot of players that like to run the floor, so we’re not playing to my strength, we’re playing to the team’s strength.”
Crawford’s wacky ways still show themselves at times, which is to be expected. Some of his whirling attacks of the hoop can still cause a nauseous feeling deep in your stomach, and his fourth quarter technical after arguing with refs over a missed called (with the Celtics up 17 with just over four minutes to play) on Monday night is another instance that makes you vigorously scratch your head.
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But as long as Crawford keeps that shoot-first mentality deep down and his daring drives to the hoop end with either two points or, new to his repertoire, a flashy feed that leads to points, he will continue to get that opportunity to lead the way on offense.
And believe it or not, he’s become that leader he promised to be before the season.
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