SALT LAKE CITY – When Jordan Crawford decided that it was time to rest a bone bruise in his left ankle and the Washington Wizards reeled off their first three-game winning streak outside of April in nearly five years, the value of the team’s leading scorer was suddenly brought into question: How would he fit when he returned? What role was he going to play?
John Wall had finally joined the lineup, raising the competence and confidence of the team, and Bradley Beal was beginning to emerge as an adept running mate, threatening to greatly diminish Crawford’s once-dominant presence on the team. But the incredibly confident reserve shooting guard was adamant that he wouldn’t have a difficult transition.
“Jump right in. Provide what I give,” Crawford said when asked what he expected to happen when he returned.
In his third game back, Crawford offered a reminder of his continued importance on a steadily-improving team — and not only because he caused the most joyous, childlike celebration of the season after making a 31-foot fall-away shot as time expired to deliver a 98-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
With Wall having his first rough outing in his sixth game since returning from a knee injury and Beal on the bench because he was having his first poor shooting performance this month, Crawford scored all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter, including a one-man 8-2 run to temporarily thwart a Portland rally and set the stage for the shot that secured the Wizards’ fifth win in seven games.
“That’s what we like from Jordan; his ability to come off the bench and heat up,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Bradley struggled a little bit and to have a guy like that that can come in is huge for us.”
The Wizards (9-30) are 2-2 on their western trip that concludes on Wednesday against the Utah Jazz. After carrying the Wizards offensively for the first three months despite serving various roles — starting at point guard and shooting guard and coming off the bench as a designated scorer — Crawford began to hit a rough patch when he lost his starting job for arriving late to shoot-around on Dec. 26.
But his jumper in Portland helped Crawford somewhat make amends for a 115-113 double-overtime loss against Brooklyn on Jan. 4, when he had two turnovers and missed two free throws as the Wizards blew an eight-point lead in 75 seconds remaining in the first extra frame.
Three days later, Crawford decided to take some time to rest an ankle injury that he had been dealing with without much complaint since early November. Crawford made a three-pointer that gave the Wizards a lead they never relinquished in a road win over Denver in his return last Friday, but he had mostly been quiet in his first two games back, totaling just 11 points.
Through three quarters in Portland, Crawford had only taken one shot, committed two fouls and appeared prepared to have another quiet performance — until Wittman decided to keep him in at the start of the fourth quarter. Crawford made sure Wittman wouldn’t even think about replacing him with Beal or anyone else.
“I get the opportunity, I want to take advantage of it,” said Crawford, who is averaging career highs of 15 points per game on 42 percent shooting in his third season. “It ain’t about bad games or good games, really. It’s about opportunity. . . . We got a deep team. Got a lot of guys at the same position that can pick another person up and we’re just doing a good job playing together.”
The Wizards were tied with Portland at 95 with 3.6 seconds remaining at the Rose Garden and Crawford wanted the ball and the opportunity to take the last shot. Crawford had made shots that secured wins before, missed a few potential tying jumpers, but had never known the glory of silencing an arena and leaving his opponents frozen with a crushing shot.
When forward Martell Webster’s first read, for Wall fell through, Crawford fought off Portland’s Wesley Matthews, stumbled after colliding with LaMarcus Aldridge and became a magnet to the ball.
“I got it in to him,” Webster said, “and he did his thing.”
Crawford’s teammates certainly know what “his thing” is, since they’ve watched him take shots from unusual angles and unfathomable distances. So, when Crawford dribbled left, stepped back and pulled up, few had any doubt about the outcome.
“I knew it was good,” forward Trevor Ariza said. “Because that’s the shot he shoots all the time. When it left his hand, it just looked good.”
Center Emeka Okafor shook his head afterward to explain what transpired: “Nothing new. All net. That’s what he does.”
In the locker room after the game, Beal said Crawford told his teammates that he was due for a game-winner. Crawford delivered the knockout blow against Portland for the second time this season, after hitting a three-pointer to thwart a 16-0 fourth-quarter run and secure the Wizards’ first victory after 12 losses to the start the season.
But Crawford found some special pleasure in finally adding a game-winner to his résumé. Afterward, Crawford was asked if he was going to do something with the game ball.
“If y’all can get if for me, I’ll keep it,” Crawford said with a laugh.