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The Phoenix Suns had a growing lead on Wednesday night when the Denver Nuggets’ Aaron Gordon attempted to move toward the 3-point line with 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 there were whistles and a light scramble that threatened to turn into a full-blown argument.
It was, of course, no surprise that Crowder, a striker who works as the Suns resident Enforcer, was right in the thick of it. Crowder and Gordon were assessed with technical fouls.
“Honestly, it comes down to me, I’m not looking for it,” Crowder said of his extracurricular education. “Other teams just try to be physical with me, try to upset me. I don’t know if they know, but I like this style of play. I like trash talk. I like all of this because it definitely gets me going and I think my team definitely feeds on it a bit, the energy it has. “
The Suns track down the Nuggets – and the NBA’s newly-minted Most Valuable Player, Nikola Jokic – in their Western Conference semifinals series and sail to two one-sided wins ahead of Game 3 in Denver on Friday.
And while the Suns are powered by their backcourt tandem of Devin Booker and Chris Paul, Crowder has added an extra layer of liveliness and playoff experience. Most of the time he does his job in the quiet corners of the game: defending, ricocheting, shielding. But when necessary, he shows up to hit a 3-pointer or kick an opposing player in the face. It was no coincidence that TNT put a microphone on him to broadcast the Sun’s 123-98 victory in Game 2 in Phoenix.
“Nothing can upset Jae,” Paul said.
In five straight playoff wins for the Suns, who are in the middle of their first-round streak against the Los Angeles Lakers, Crowder averaged 13.8 points and 5 rebounds per game, while he was 50 percent off the field and 46.2 percent shot from a 3-point range. On Wednesday, he didn’t put up any gaudy numbers – he scored 11 points – but instead chose his seats. He scored 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 try to play,” said Crowder. “We try to get our way through at an early stage.”
The son of Corey Crowder, a former NBA player for the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, 30, grew up outside of Atlanta (where he was an easily-recruited high school contender). He attended two junior colleges before ending up at Marquette, where he was named Senior Big East Player of the Year. His basketball nomadic life continued when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded him to the Dallas Mavericks shortly after they were elected for the 34th pick in the 2012 draft.
Crowder has played for seven teams in nine seasons, although he may stay in Phoenix for a while. He signed a three-year contract worth about $ 29 million as a free agent in November after leaving Miami, and his value is clear: he does a little bit of everything, including defending multiple positions and stretching the floor as 3rd -Points threat. And for a young team with big goals, it offers a physicality that only comes with experience.
Check out the Suns with the Lakers series, which featured some sort of telenovela starring Crowder and LeBron James. For the first three games in the series, Crowder struggled with his jumper (which can happen), shooting 7 of 27 off the field, and James walked right up to him in the final stages of the Lakers ‘Game 3 win when James’ teammates poked him on .
Other players might have folded like origami. Instead, Crowder returned for Game 4, scoring 17 points – in front of a sneering crowd at the Staples Center, no less – as the suns leveled the series.
In the Sun’s final win in Game 6, Crowder scored 18 points on 6 of 9 shots from the 3-point line (he did not attempt any shots inside the arc). During a break in play with less than a minute left, Crowder danced salsa right in front of James – a kind of homage to a dance James performed in a commercial for Mountain Dew – and was thrown out. Seldom boring, Crowder sprinted into the locker room like Usain Bolt.
Then he posted a few photos of himself playing salsa on his Instagram account (@ Bossmann99), along with a caption: “DON’T HAVE FUN WHEN THE RABBIT GUN GOT GOT.” As if he wanted to make it clear that he did the job himself, he signed it with “Big 99” – a reference to his uniform number.
“I felt like we were being treated a little disrespectful in game 3 or whatever,” said Crowder, “so in the final game I did what I had to do.”
While promising to do the salsa with the fans in Phoenix if the Suns win the championship, Crowder said he’s trying to be a little more cautious with opposing players at this stage of the playoffs. He has already paid his portion of the fine.
“I have to be smart,” he said. “I can’t always bite the bait and always give money back to the league.”
The suns win against the nuggets with balance. In both victories, all five starters got double-digit points. You play the ball and act as a collective whole, a high-speed machine with synchronized parts. Crowder is one of many, but important in its own way.
“It makes the task a lot more difficult for our opponent when everyone is rolling,” said Crowder.