In Jae Crowder the Suns have an executioner with a certain flair

The Phoenix Suns had a growing lead on Wednesday night when Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets tried to get closer to the 3-point line on an offensive possession. He definitely tried. The problem was Jae Crowder had blocked Gordon’s path with his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame. There were shoving and arguing, and then a flurry of whistles and a slight scuffle erupted about to turn into a crash.

It wasn’t surprising, of course, that Crowder, a striker who moonlights as the Suns’ resident executor, was in the middle of this. Crowder and Gordon were penalized for technical fouls.

“Honestly, it comes to me, I’m not looking for it,” Crowder said of his extracurricular activities. “The other teams just try to be physical with me, try to piss me off. I don’t know if they know that, but I like that style of play. I like to chat. I like it all because it is. definitely keeps me going, and I think my team really feeds off that a bit, the energy that it gives off. “

The Suns are pushing the Nuggets – and Nikola Jokic, the NBA’s most valuable player – in their Western Conference semifinal streak, en route to a pair of lopsided wins before Game 3 Friday in Denver.

And while the Suns are propelled by their back tandem of Devin Booker and Chris Paul, Crowder has added an extra layer of playoff fiery and experience. Most of the time, it does its job in the recesses of the game: defend, bounce, screen. But when the need arises, he will surface to hit a 3 point or run into an opposing player. It’s no coincidence that TNT stuck a microphone on him for the broadcast of the Suns’ 123-98 victory in Game 2 in Phoenix.

“Jae is never confused by anything,” said Paul.

In five straight playoff wins for the Suns, dating from the middle of their first-round streak against the Los Angeles Lakers, Crowder is averaging 13.8 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and at 46.2% at 3 points. . On Wednesday, he didn’t show any garish numbers – he scored 11 points – but picked his places. He scored the team’s first two baskets, then opened the second half with a 3-point pointer that seemed to indicate a blowout was brewing.

“It’s just how we try to play,” Crowder said. “We try to impose our will early.”

Son of Corey Crowder, former NBA player for the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, Crowder, 30, grew up outside of Atlanta (where he was a lightly recruited high school prospect). He attended two junior colleges before landing at Marquette, where he was the Big East Player of the Year as a senior. His nomadic basketball life continued when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded him to the Dallas Mavericks shortly after selecting him with the 34th pick in the 2012 Draft.

Crowder has played for seven teams in nine seasons, although he may stay in Phoenix for a while. He signed a three-year contract worth around $ 29 million as a free agent in November after leaving Miami, and his value is clear: he does a bit of everything, which includes defending several positions and stretch the floor as a 3-point threat. . And for a young team with big goals, that offers a level of physique that only comes with experience.

Consider the Suns’ series with the Lakers, which featured a sort of telenovela with Crowder and LeBron James. In the first three games of the series, Crowder struggled with his jumper (which can happen), shooting 7 of 27 from the field, and James attacked him directly in the later stages of the Lakers’ victory in the game 3 as James’ teammates pushed him to the.

Other players might have folded like origami. Instead, Crowder returned for Game 4 and scored 17 points – in front of a mocking crowd at Staples Center, no less – as the Suns tied the series.

In the Suns’ final victory in Game 6, Crowder scored 18 points on 6 of 9 shots from the 3-point line (he did not attempt any shots inside the arc). During a break in the game less than a minute from the end, Crowder’s salsa danced directly in front of James – a sort of tribute to a dance that James performs in an advertisement for Mountain Dew – and was kicked out. Crowder, who is rarely boring, sprinted to the locker room like Usain Bolt.

Subsequently, he posted a few photos of himself doing salsa to his Instagram account (@ Bossmann99), with a caption: “AINT NO FUN WHEN THE RABBIT GOT THE GUN.” As if to make it clear that he had written the message himself, he signed it, “Big 99” – a reference to his uniform number.

“I felt like we were being disrespected a little bit in Game 3 or whatever,” Crowder said, “so I did what I had to do in the closing game.”

While pledging to salsa with fans in Phoenix if the Suns win the championship, Crowder said he’s trying to exercise a little more restraint with opposing players at this point in the playoffs. He has already paid his share of fines.

“I must be smart,” he said. “I can’t always take the hook and keep giving the league money back.”

Against the nuggets, the suns win with balance. In both wins, all five starters scored in double digits. They pass the ball and function as a collective whole, a high-speed machine with synchronized parts. Crowder is one of many, but important in its own way.

“It makes it a lot harder for our opponent when everyone’s rolling,” said Crowder.

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