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Jae Crowder makes winning plays in winning time of huge Suns win

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, and Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) try to get possession of the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker tried to draw a foul against the Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton on Wednesday night in the mid-fourth quarter at a 113-112 Suns lead.

Booker got the foul and both teams walked toward the basket to take their positions for Booker’s two free throw attempts. That is, until the officials deemed there would be no shooting foul.

The Suns were upset, including Booker. They pleaded with the referees for a few seconds before a voice drowned out the others, looking to tell his team to move on, focus and just play.

“I just felt like, just for our mindset, the time and score of the game — it was winning time. And it was time to just move on to the next play. It was our ball, it was not a turnover, we’re OK.”

That voice and that quote was Jae Crowder’s.

He made a handful of humongous plays in the second half of the Suns’ 125-124 win over the Bucks, so they were indeed winning plays. His impact was sizable despite scoring only six points, and some of that was because of his 14 rebounds in 26 minutes.

In a game where all five Suns starters had at least 14 points, Crowder’s fingerprints were all over the game off the bench. And he did it in his first action since missing three games due to a sore right foot.

“Didn’t expect him to be as sharp as he was, but he just makes plays,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said.

The ball just finds guys like Crowder sometimes. He’s too active to not be involved.

“Jae’s one of those guys that’s dependable,” Williams said.

The Suns’ ball movement all night was excellent. That’s thanks to players like Crowder that keep it moving, always looking for an extra pass, if necessary. The 30-year-old has an innate feel for making those decisions quickly.

How about when the effort and instincts come together in one play?

A great defense’s backbone is multiple efforts by each player during one possession, something Williams emphasizes regularly. Crowder might be the best on the team at it and he’s doing it when it counts.

When Chris Paul was asked about what he wants the younger players to take away from a win like this, he said it’s the importance of execution.

This possession by Crowder is one of the best to point to in bringing that home, when he stuffed a drive by league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo before finishing off the play.

Crowder’s also good for the single efforts that can swing an entire game, like when the Bucks are trying to find Antetokounmpo for his 48th and 49th points of the evening with 30 seconds left down one.

Honestly, it’s exhausting sometimes talking about players like Crowder on bad teams. Because, ultimately, their true importance does not come even close to shining through enough until a team is in games like Wednesday’s: a slugfest thriller against one of the best basketball teams in the world, a Suns effort to make it seven wins in their last eight games to improve to a 15-9 record that’s fourth in the Western Conference.

Now, the veteran presence and impact can truly be felt.

“I feel it keeps everyone engaged, keeps everyone learning, not making the same mistakes twice,” Suns guard Devin Booker said of Crowder and Paul. “Having young players like me, Deandre (Ayton), Mikal (Bridges) and Cam (Johnson) — having those older guys, Jae and Chris, to help us along the way and show us how valuable every possession is helps us out tremendously.”

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