Talk about one of your all-time greatest backfires.
As has come to be expected, the 6’5″ combo guard murdered the Celtics, registering a loud 28 points and 6 assists in Atlanta’s 100-91 win over Boston. The thorn in Boston’s side was persistent all night long, dominating even a defense geared to stop him.
Last season, Boston swept Atlanta, taking all four games from what was then an Eastern Conference pretender. This year, Atlanta turned the tables, with convincing wins in all four matches between the teams. If you still don’t think the Hawks are a contender now, they surely would be if they played the Celtics every night.
The main difference between Boston sweeping last season and Atlanta dominating the matchup this time around? Crawford.
It’s not just that he puts up big numbers, he puts up timely numbers. Last night alone, there was the buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the first quarter and put the Hawks up one, the and-one bank shot to put some distance between the teams in the fourth, and the steal and dunk that effectively ended any threat Boston presented in the final stanza.
When Atlanta needs a bucket or wants to preserve a lead late in the game, they often isolate Crawford near midcourt. There, he is tough to stop, with quickness, size and ball-handling ability making him just about as tough a one-on-one matchup as there is in the NBA today.
But the Celtics knew that, and knew they needed to send help defense early and often. They had a hit out on his head, didn’t they?
Give a lot of credit to Crawford. But don’t forget to blame the Celtics’ defense for allowing Crawford to once again have his way.
Often, the help defense was late. Sometimes, it was nonexistent. Almost always, it was ineffective.
But with some of the shots Crawford was hitting, it wasn’t all about bad defense. He’s good, he’s tough to stop, and if you let him get as hot as the Celtics did, Jamal Crawford can be very dangerous.
With Crawford alongside Joe Johnson, the Hawks have a crunch-time duo that rivals just about any in the league. Both can create shots for themselves, make things easier for their teammates, and shoulder the load when the Hawks need a big play. They’ve made that all too obvious in four meetings with Boston.
Crawford has played such a prominent role in Atlanta’s surge to second place in the East that one could argue he was the best offseason addition made before this season. Shaq was added to the Cavs, Vince Carter to the Magic, and Rasheed Wallace to the Celtics, but it was Atlanta’s swap of little-used guards Acie Law and Speedy Claxton for Crawford that has had the biggest impact on the Eastern Conference race.
Even though Number Eleven has been so good, Mike Bibby is still the Hawks’ starting point guard.
But it’s Crawford who’s an integral part of their two-headed closer.