Nene’s return was such a surprise that Jordan Crawford didn’t have any idea that he would play until the veteran big man made his way to the scorers’ table in the first quarter of the Wizards’ 121-112 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I had to play.” (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

Nene came back after missing 10 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and showed minimal rust as he scored 14 points and had five rebounds in just 18 minutes. But the Wizards likely wouldn’t have been able to send a crushing blow to the Bucks’ playoff chances, if not for Crawford, who scored a game-high 32 points, including the decisive three-pointer with 51.9 seconds remaining.

“He got into the game early and kind of took it to us,” Bucks Coach Scott Skiles said of Crawford. “Then he started knocking down the jumper. He is a high-level offensive player.”

Crawford appeared doubtful to play at the morning shoot-around. Coach Randy Wittman saw Crawford head toward the practice court before the walkthrough with his right ankle heavily taped. When asked if he would have his leading scorer since the all-star break, Wittman had a worried look and replied, “We’ll see.”

Crawford was hobbling and grimacing all over the court near the tail end of the Wizards’ 87-84 win in Chicago. Joakim Noah clobbered him on a fourth-quarter drive, sending Crawford to the and it took several minutes for him to get up, as he was in noticeable pain. Crawford went through the drills on Wednesday, and didn’t want to sit out against the Bucks, with only a few games left in the season. He camped out in the training room before the game, getting treatment and more tape. After the game, he had another dose of treatment and tape.

“It was sore, but the trainers did a great job, preparing me for the game. I wanted to play,” Crawford said.

Crawford has been more than willing to carry much of the offensive load since the Wizards traded away Nick Young and JaVale McGee at the trade deadline. He scored just nine points on 2 of 13 shooting in Chicago, but he bounced back in a major way against Milwaukee, matching that total in the first quarter alone.

He traded baskets for most of the night with Bucks speedy guard Monta Ellis, who finished with 31 points, and also handed out three assists. Crawford was especially huge in the fourth quarter, as he scored 11 points.

“Jordan has been big for us,” Maurice Evans said. “He has a gift of being able to put the ball in the basket. I think the ankle injury helped him because, as of late, he has slowed down and taken his time. This allowed him to see the court better and utilize all the skills he has. He was extremely effective tonight and he hit some big shots for us.”

Crawford only needed 17 shots and agreed that the injury helped him. “I think it helped me focus more. There were certain things I was scared to do. I wanted to play and if I played, I didn’t want to make an excuse.”

Wittman praised both Crawford and Nene for giving it a go.

“For Jordan and Nene, Jordan was really hurting and Nene is not all the way, but he has been fighting to come back. Those two guys that came back and fought to play every minute means a lot for the team.”