Bradley Beal followed by stealing a pass from Hornets reserve Darius Miller and dribbling the length of the court for a layup. Crawford trailed Beal for the entire jaunt, and jumped in the air as Beal drew a foul on Austin Rivers. As Crawford landed, nearly everyone in half-empty New Orleans Arena heard him shout, “And one!”
Crawford and Beal scored the final six points of the first half, cutting a 12-point deficit in half and giving the Wizards plenty of momentum as they entered the locker room.
The backcourt duo combined for 41 points on Wednesday and offered an encouraging start to this transition period between A.J. Price’s broken hand and John Wall’s eventual return from a stress injury in his left knee.
“Exactly. Similar to like when John gets back, takes all the emphasis off me,” Beal said when asked about sharing the floor with Crawford. “We have JC who can play point guard and create and score for himself. Then the defense is going to help off him and that creates shots for everybody else. With him at the point, makes the job a lot more easier.”
Crawford’s instinct is to score, and Coach Randy Wittman enjoys having his offensive punch coming off the bench. But with the waiting game continuing for Wall and Shaun Livingston the lone pure point guard on the roster, Wittman needs Crawford’s playmaking ability in the starting lineup.
The team didn’t get off to a promising start, scoring just 11 points and having more turnovers (six) than field goals (four) in the first quarter. Crawford eventually settled down, right along with the Wizards’ offense — though neither was especially efficient. The Wizards shot 32.9 percent (27 of 82) and Crawford connected on just 37.5 percent (9 of 24), but they all made shots when it mattered.
After watching his team struggle to get points, he decided it was time to take over. He scored 12 fourth-quarter points, giving the Wizards their first lead of the game at 63-62 with a driving layup, then broke a 65-all tie with a three-pointer and followed with a three-point play that proved to be the difference.
“I definitely felt it was time to be aggressive because it was time to score. So that’s what I was focused on,” Crawford said. “I just really wanted to do everything it took to win. I didn’t care how many shots I shot, turnovers, nothing. I just wanted to do whatever it took to win.”
Wittman was confident that Crawford would be able to run the team, especially after he handed out a season-high eight assists in the loss on Saturday to Golden State. It just took a while for Crawford to get going.
“Early on, again, first time kind of starting there, you could see him thinking, and whether, it’s going to be a little bit of a process of how we’re going to get going at the start of games and everybody touching the ball and movement,” Wittman said. “He was second-guessing a little bit and I knew that was going to happen, so that’s something that will come along. I thought he came down the stretch and really made some big shots.”
Crawford admitted that he was pressing early, though that was evident when his first pass was intercepted. But he finished with just two turnovers compared to four assists.
“It was different playing the point at the beginning of the game,” he said. “I was thinking about different stuff, but once I got into the game and once I seen what the team needed I got comfortable.”
Beal reached double figures for the fifthth consecutive game, finishing with 15 points. He was one of just four players on either team to make at least half of his shots, going 6 for 12 from the field, and credited Crawford for helping him get some better looks.
“For sure, because if I don’t score, he’s going to score. Or if not, our big is going to score,” Beal said. “Whenever I’m on the floor with him, it’s kind of a tandem basically. We play off each other. Were really the main two guys out there. It’s something you have to play through, because whenever I’m out there with him, I feel comfortable because I know he’s going to make smart decisions.”
Crawford has scored at 20 points in three of the past four games. He is averaging 20 points, 4.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds in his past games.
“He’s a really talented player,” said Nene, whom Crawford saw cutting for a layup late in the game, catching him on the move with a sweet dish. “Sometimes he’s too explosive. He needs to slow down a little bit.”
Crawford had no choice but to slow down in the final seconds of the win in New Orleans, as he calmly dribbled out the clock, waiting for an opportunity to get some rest. Outscoring the opposing team, 12-10, in the fourth quarter required a lot of work.
“I was tired. I was definitely tired,” Crawford said. “It feels good. It definitely feels good.”