BOSTON — In Doc Rivers‘ mind, there is something worse than Jordan Crawford taking one of his patented off-balance, contested 3-point shots with plenty of time left on the shot clock. And that is planting a seed of doubt in the fearless shooter’s mind that, maybe, he is being too carefree for his own good.
Crawford has long been criticized for his questionable shot selection, which has limited the effectiveness of the otherwise dangerous shot-maker. His poor decision-making earned him a spot deep on the bench in Washington, where he languished in a sea of “DNPs” before he came to Boston at the trade deadline. Since joining the Celtics, Crawford has been as advertised, and that is fine with Rivers.
“I don’t want to get in his way,” Rivers said before his team took on the Knicks on Tuesday. “We don’t have time to change him or coach him to where he fits the exact role the way you want him to play. What I’ve done, when you get a player this late in the year, you tell him, ‘Just go play. I won’t get in your way. If you’re doing something too much, I’ll let you know.’
“I don’t want to get in his way at all. I want him to go out and play, be him, and if it’s something we don’t like, we’ll take him out. I just want him to play free.”
Freedom can be a blessing and curse for both Crawford and the Celtics. He jumped into action in a rare start on Tuesday, in place of the injured Courtney Lee, and hit four of his first five shots to help the Celtics trail by only four points after the first quarter. Then he fell into one of the hair-pulling, undisciplined ruts that have defined his three-year NBA career. He shot 1-for-6 the rest of the way while committing some fatal defensive mistakes and coughing up six turnovers in Boston’s fifth straight loss.
Still, Rivers is not complaining. The Celtics coach calls Crawford his “wild card,” handing the 24-year-old Xavier product the role previously filled by Leandro Barbosa before his season-ending knee injury. Barbosa was sent to Washington, along with center Jason Collins, as part of the trade that brought Crawford to the Celtics. The Wizards’ willingness to part with a first-round draft choice from only three years ago for an injured player who will never play for them and a journeyman center speaks volumes of what they thought of his skills.
To that, Rivers merely shrugs.
“That’s why we traded for him,” Rivers said. “When you lose Barbosa, who was pretty much good on some nights and some nights bad, we looked at who could do the same things, and Jordan is the perfect character for that role. We laugh, but he is on the ‘All-Scary’ team, for me and [Knicks coach Mike Woodson]. Every night, he scares both coaches.”
Crawford is averaging 8.3 points through 16 games with the Celtics, and the results have been predictably unpredictable. He is shooting 40 percent from the field and has 26 turnovers, but he has shown passing skills that are better than advertised. His 29 assists have been a useful addition to a Celtics’ new offense, in which ball movement is a must. He erupted for 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies on Saturday, nearly turning a blowout loss into a miraculous win.
Crawford is not an ideal player, but for now the Celtics are not asking him to be one. Sure, Rivers might find it a little scary to put Crawford out of the court, but that is not anywhere near as scary as it would be if Rivers did not have him at all.