The stellar play of Jae Crowder was a critical factor as the Miami Heat dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks in emphatic fashion.
While he played an important mentoring role for the emerging Memphis Grizzlies, his on-court contributions were somewhat underwhelming, shooting just 29.3 percent from 3-point range in his 45 appearances, including going 8-of-35 in his final nine games in a Grizzlies uniform.
But following his trade prior to the February deadline to the Miami Heat, the turnaround in his on-court production has been astounding.
In his 20 regular season games with the Heat, Crowder averaged 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds while hitting at a sizzling 44.5 percent clip from long range. And now in the unusual setting of a postseason in a bubble, Crowder has not let up.
Through nine games, Crowder is averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 boards while nailing 40 percent of his 3-point attempts on a team-high 8.3 attempts per game. This production ramped up a level in the 4-1 second-round series win over the Milwaukee Bucks, launching 10.2 triples per game while converting at a 43.1 percent return.
These numbers were certainly not expected when the 30-year-old Crowder was acquired along with Andre Iguodala at the trade deadline. While his overall versatility was certainly an attraction for the Heat, few could have foreseen such an elite level of return at the offensive end. But what was never in doubt is his effort level and flexibility at the defensive end of the floor.
Inserted into the starting lineup at the commencement of the seeding games in the bubble, Crowder and the Heat have never looked back. While Meyers Leonard served his purpose in the frontcourt alongside Bam Adebayo, Crowder’s ability to defend multiple positions while also stretching the floor has been invaluable.
This commenced in the opening-round series with the Indiana Pacers, when he held his primary opponent, shooting guard Victor Oladipo, to 7-of-22 shooting over the four-game sweep. Forward to the Bucks series, a time in which all Heat followers were able to truly appreciate the versatility the 6’6″ Crowder.
Crowder held his primary assignment, All-Star shooting guard Khris Middleton, to 15-of-38 shooting overall, including 5-of-14 from 3-point range. And then there was his coverage of Giannis Antetokounmpo, where Crowder held the reigning league MVP to 9-of-22 shooting from the field. While the Heat employed somewhat of a committee when defending Antetokounmpo, Crowder’s ability to use his combination of strength and lateral quickness was a key component in the Heat registering an impressive 106.6 defensive rating for the series.
During the midst of the Bucks’ series, head coach Erik Spoelstra emphasized just how important Crowder is at both ends of the floor:
“He’s a competitor, he’s going to do whatever is necessary, he does it at both ends, it’s not an easy series for him. He has to sacrifice his body, play against the MVP, sometimes play against a 7-footer, sometimes put him on guards, he’s basically guarding one-through-five in this series.”
Having averaged 33.5 minutes per game against the Bucks, Crowder and his teammates will certainly be cherishing some extra days of rest as they await the winner of the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors’ series. And while he wasn’t the most heralded player in the deal orchestrated by the Miami Heat, Jae Crowder has certainly made it known he’s here to stay.