This is what the Golden State Warriors wanted out of Jordan Crawford from the beginning: an aggressive player who is not afraid to take shots and take over a game.
Crawford did exactly that on Tuesday night against the seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks in a 108-85 victory. Crawford scored a game-high 19 points off the bench on 8 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 6 from three-point range. He led a bench that outscored the Warrior starters, 59 to 49, which is starting to be a major weapon for Golden State.
Crawford was hot from the start, hitting his first six shots of the game, including a buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter to give the Warriors a 29-22 lead after being down 16-8 midway through the first quarter. Crawford hit every shot imaginable in the second quarter, hitting turnaround jumpers, pull up three-pointers in transition and floaters in the lane. He was simply unstoppable and reminded Warriors fans about the other Crawford in Los Angeles. The Mavericks were suddenly down 18 points in the second quarter and the Warriors superstar, Stephen Curry, had not scored in the game.
This would have never happened in the beginning of the season but now the bench is firing on all cylinders and reminding Warriors fans of the “Dubstitutes” of 2011-12, Jackson’s first season coaching the team. That bench was comprised of Nate Robinson, Klay Thompson, Brandon Rush, Dominic McGuire and Ekpe Udoh. This year’s version may be even better, led by Steve Blake, Crawford, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Jermaine O’Neal.
Blake runs the show for the Warriors’ second unit, hitting timely threes and allowing guys like Crawford and Barnes to score at will. Tuesday night’s tilt with Dallas was no different for the veteran, dealing out eight assists and hitting 3-of-5 from three-point range. Blake was an unbelievable plus-23 while on the court which made it easy for Jackson to rest Curry for tonight’s clash for the Los Angeles Clippers with Curry playing only 22 minutes.
Barnes has turned a corner since the All-Star break much like Thompson. Barnes is comfortable on the court, slashing to the hoop, drawing fouls and hitting his jump shot with ease. He scored 14 points on just six shots and getting to the line four times, converting them all. Barnes did an excellent defensive job on Dirk Nowitzki along with Green, only allowing just 12 points to the future Hall of Famer.
Green’s value can not be seen by just looking at a box score because when you look at it, it does not look very impressive. You need to see this guy play to get a better understanding of what he means to the Warriors. He scored six points, which does not seem like much, but it is the effort plays he makes that makes this bench unit succeed, especially on the defensive end. Green grabbed seven rebounds and had three steals all while guarding one of the best power forwards this game has ever seen. His energy and toughness is unmatched by anyone on the court and may be the most improved player on this team.
As for O’Neal, he is the veteran leader of the bench. He has seen it all in the 17 years he has been in this league and thinks this team has the ability to contend for a championship. O’Neal’s presence allows the Warriors to play with a standard lineup not losing much with Andrew Bogut out of the lineup. Like Bogut, O’Neal is a rim protector and provides the Warriors with a scoring punch off the bench. But unlike Bogut, O’Neal is not afraid to get fouled, shooting 75 percent from the line. He has found the fountain of youth and hopefully it does not dry out any time soon.
Once a nuisance, the Warriors’ bench is now a strength on both sides of the floor. It has allowed the Warriors to play their starters less minutes and keep them fresh as we approach the postseason. If the Warriors’ bench continues to play like this, O’Neal’s wish may actually come true.