In just one year’s time, Atlanta Hawks’ guard Jamal Crawford has transitioned from playoff rookie with the nerves of a kid on Christmas Eve into a playoff assassin with the poise of a savvy veteran.
This change has resulted in Crawford helping to lead the Hawks to their current 3-1 lead over the Orlando Magic.
“I remember the playoffs last year,” Crawford said after Game 3. “I couldn’t even sleep days before. I was so excited. I just wasn’t ready for it. This year I was much more confident—much more relaxed.”
In his second trip to the post-season, the 10-year vet is averaging 24 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from deep - a considerable step up from his averages last post-season of 16.3 points per game on 36.4 percent shooting from the field.
Despite struggling much of the regular season, Hawks coach Larry Drew stuck with his sixth man commenting in March that he wanted to get Crawford into a groove heading into the playoffs which came at the expense of Jeff Teague’s inconsistent minutes.
It’s hard to imagine, however, that even Drew would have predicted this level of success.
Crawford hasn’t been the only bright spot for the Hawks who are dominating the battle behind the the three-point line.
Before Game 4, Quentin Richardson told HOOPSADDICT.com how important it is for the Magic to step up their perimeter defense.
“That’s obviously a big part of it,” Richardson said. “They got some great perimeter guys out there. Joe (Johnson) is a tough cover, Jamal (Crawford) obviously is a tough cover and Kirk (Hinrich) is no pushover either. So that’s definitely a component of the defense that we need to step up.”
Richardson’s assessment is spot on as the trio has managed combine to score 23 of the Hawks 25 three pointers. The Magic, despite taking 33 more three point attempts than the Hawks, have only managed to knock down 21 of their 96 shots from deep.
In Game 4, the Magic shot a measly 8.7 percent from three off of 2-23 shooting.
“[The Magic] are a three-headed snake with Dwight (Howard) with Jameer (Nelson) and with that three-point line,” Drew said. “We’ve answered the challenge with defending all three. I think that has been the difference.”
Whether or not the Hawks have done a good job defending Howard is debatable as Superman has managed to average 32.3 points and 17.5 rebounds per contest.
Given the way the first four games have gone, however, Drew seems more the willing to let Howard have his way.
“What we did in the past wasn’t working,” Drew said. “We doubled teamed him and we opened up two cans of worms. We double teamed him where he was still scoring and then we were leaving three-point shooters open.”
Crawford has went from having a mediocre regular season to being one of the most spectacular players of the playoffs and currently the ninth best scorer of the post season. The rest of the Hawks are on board with the transformation as well as they have managed to turn a solid three point shooting team into a group of guys that can’t buy a bucket from deep.
With Crawford’s unexpected output and the Hawks’ shutdown perimeter defense, it appears the Hawks are well on their way to the second round.