TORONTO — The mismatch was obvious to nearly everyone in the arena except Jordan Crawford. All alone near the basket, and giving up almost four inches and 40 pounds, Crawford found himself in a seemingly compromising position last week as he was forced to guard New York Knicks all-star forward Carmelo Anthony after a defensive switch.
Fans at Verizon Center groaned in anticipation, waiting for Anthony to flaunt his expansive offensive arsenal on the Washington Wizards’ third-year shooting guard. Anthony attempted to use his strength to get closer to the basket but Crawford didn’t yield much ground and batted the ball out of bounds before Anthony could make a move.
Asked a day later about how he felt about that sequence, Crawford defiantly shrugged and said, “We all men here.”
Crawford is rarely one to publicly give his opposition the upper hand because he refuses to allow himself to lose any edge on the court. But what some might view as delusional, Crawford sees as a way of life.
“That’s how I was raised, to be honest. I just didn’t think it was anybody better than me. That’s how it be. From Detroit, you’ve got to be like that,” said Crawford, who threw on a sweatshirt after Tuesday’s practice at Air Canada Center that read, “Detroit vs Everybody.”
Brooklyn Nets all-star guard Joe Johnson, who was Crawford’s teammate for half a season in Atlanta, remembers how he refused to back down in practice and never stopped believing that he belonged on the floor — even with the playoff-tested Hawks featuring more seasoned and established options than a wiry, fearless rookie.
“He’s a confident kind of guy,” Johnson said about Crawford. “He feels as though he’s the best player on the floor. And you can’t knock him for that, but that’s how you’ve got to approach this game.”
Crawford has had a different role since arriving in Washington, where his scoring is usually viewed as a necessity for a team lacking scorers and is often dealing with injuries. The demand has led Crawford to take his share of questionable shots — contested runners, pull-ups over double-teams — that he perhaps shouldn’t. He takes the criticism in stride.
“You’ve got to kind of be a basketball player and be in it to really see it,” Crawford said. “You’ve got to know what the team need regardless of what people think. If you don’t have scorers, you’ve got to score. It’s as simple as that. Regardless of what people are saying, you still got to be you.”
He’s still the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to wear sunglasses at night, or proudly wear a Detroit Tigers cap in a town full of New York Yankees fans during the baseball playoffs, as he did after the Wizards lost to the Nets on Monday at Barclays Center.
With the arrival of promising rookie Bradley Beal, Crawford is in a stiff competition for minutes at the shooting guard spot. The Wizards (1-3) will play the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday and Beal has taken over as the starter in the past two preseason games, with Coach Randy Wittman unable to hold back the immense talent of the No. 3 overall pick.
But the 6-foot-4 Crawford hasn’t let it affect his play or rattle his confidence, as he has scored in double figures in each of the past two games — and handed out a team-high seven assists in the Wizards’ lone preseason win against Cleveland.
“Jordan is a unique guy,” Wittman said. “We all know he has the ability to score. He’s just got to understand the players that he has and when he can really push the envelope and when he’s capable of making plays. He’s been really busting his tail, trying to do the thing that we want. I’m just going to keep challenging him to stay on that road.”
Wittman has tried numerous ways to keep Crawford on the floor, giving him playing time at point guard and also allowing him to share the court with Beal when the Wizards go small. Crawford doesn’t know if he’ll start this season or not, but he is better prepared to handle any situation after the past two seasons in Washington.
“I see myself being a major contributor,” Crawford said. “I’m going to see what the coach wants from me, but I’m going to keep doing me. You know that.”
Crawford took advantage of Nick Young’s knee injury to have some big scoring nights as a rookie, then overcame a rough start to snatch the job away before Young was dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers last season. He entered the summer with clear-cut goals for this season.
“Being an all-star, individually, and as a team, I want to make the playoffs,” he said.
But unlike in the past, when Crawford boldly made statements and hoped for them to happen, Crawford understands that nothing comes easily in the league. Ted Leonsis marveled recently about how he noticed the maturity in Crawford when he told him, “I’m a vet now.”
“My third year, I’m looking at things different and that’s a good thing,” Crawford said. “I’m seeing how tough it’s going to be to win consistently every night. That’s why I’m working as hard as I can, individually, so they can see me working hard and pick it up in practice. I just want the team to come out every night and try to win.”