BOSTON — It was difficult to reconcile the version of Jordan Crawford who walked into TD Garden on Wednesday with the version who walked in for the first time as a member of the Boston Celtics last winter.
He’s different now, though he might not admit it. He seems happier, more comfortable, more confident that his talent is recognized.
While he will always bristle at suggestions of his poor attitude or a selfish play — knocks he felt were invented by the Washington Wizards — there is little doubt that Boston represents a cherished stop in his NBA journey.
“I miss it, actually,” said Crawford, now a member of the Golden State Warriors. “It was home for a minute. It was the first time I got to play a lot of minutes, got to have ups, had downs, learned how to adjust and when you’re playing bad, how to get back. It was just a lot of positives.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was the first NBA coach to hand Crawford some responsibility, and Crawford ran with it. In 35 games as Boston’s starting point guard before Rajon Rondo returned from a torn ACL, Crawford averaged 13.7 points and 5.7 assists per game. He won a player of the week award and, in the process, proved a number of naysayers wrong.
All Crawford ever wanted was an opportunity. Stevens granted one. So it was tough for Crawford to say goodbye on Jan. 15, when Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge shipped him and MarShon Brooks to Golden State in a three-team trade for Joel Anthony and two draft picks.
His role has decreased in Golden State, where he’s averaging just 16 minutes per game, down from almost 31 per game in Boston. He’s back to being an instant-offense shooter off the bench rather than a floor general. Yet he’s given the Warriors greater depth and, if nothing else, hasn’t hurt a good thing: The Warriors are 13-9 since the deal.
“He’s been great,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “Haven’t had one problem with him. Don’t expect it, either. He’s been a high-character, high-quality guy that loves the game and loves to compete and works his tail off.”
Something about Boston bring out the best in Crawford, apparently. He dropped 15 points on Wednesday, one short of his single-game best as a Warrior. His former coach approached him after the game to say he still roots for him, just as he does Brooks, who was since traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I’m a fan. I was a fan. I still am a fan,” Stevens said. “I said this a few weeks ago after we played MarShon, you invest in those guys and when they leave you, you want to see them have success. I’d like to guard them a little better than we did, but that’s a different story.”
Unlike the returns of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers, this one didn’t feature a tribute video. But it was still emotional in its own way. Crawford, clearly moved by his time in Boston, said “of course” four times when asked whether he would ever consider playing for Stevens again.
“He gave me a chance,” Crawford said. “He put me on display as a point guard. I wanted that with the Wizards and they wouldn’t. So for him to give me that chance, I couldn’t ask for much more.”