After series struggles, Jae Crowder’s 3-pointers help Suns win Game 4

May 30, 2021, 6:37 PM
Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) appears to taunt Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder aft...

Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) appears to taunt Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder after hitting a three-point shot during the second half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

After the Phoenix Suns had led the Los Angeles Lakers by as many as 18 points in the second half on Sunday, LeBron James and Co. had dwindled the deficit down to seven points late in the fourth quarter. Tight coverage from the No. 1 defense in the NBA forced the ball into the corner. Suns forward Jae Crowder, who entered the game 2-for-20 from 3 on the series, heaved up a contested look as the shot clock was about to expire.

He didn’t just miss. The ball went behind the backboard. The Lakers had a chance to cut this pivotal Game 4 to a two-possession contest.

Phoenix stopped L.A. on consecutive possessions to get the clock inside 2:30 to play. Forward Mikal Bridges drove into the lane and kicked it out to Crowder, who was wide-open in the same corner.

This time, it was money.

Phoenix had retaken a double-digit lead, and they controlled it the rest of the way to a 100-92 victory that evened the series at two games apiece.

“I’ve been here before. I’ve been in slumps before and I just stay even-keeled,” Crowder said. “Lean on my teammates, and that’s what I want to be for my teammates, someone they can lean on.”

After the 2-for-20 start in the series, Crowder went 3-for-8 in Game 4, and all three made shots were big.

His first 3-point attempt of the game clanked off the front of the rim, but he hit two in the second quarter as part of a 16-3 Phoenix run that not only helped the Suns recover from a double-digit deficit but gave them the lead.

Crowder, make or miss, continues to shoot. In Game 4, his 17 points contributed to a team-high plus-21 on the day.

It was a mindset that head coach Monty Williams said he encouraged before the game.

Coming off a poor team performance in Game 3, Williams said he listed four key things Phoenix needed to do to even the series against the Lakers at Staples Center. Among these was having a “let-it-fly mentality” when shooting.

“We didn’t even touch the film,” Williams said. “We talked about how we want to play, and one of those categories was let it fly.”

The target audience for that message including Crowder.

Last year, as a member of the Miami Heat, he most certainly let it fly in the postseason.

His 3-point shooting was absurd in Miami’s second-round series victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, in which Crowder shot 43.1% on 10.2 attempts per game. Over the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals, though, he shot 29.1% on 7.2 attempts per game from 3.

During the 2020-21 regular season, Crowder hit 38.9% of his looks from deep, his highest percentage since 2016-17. His range had seemed to vanish over the first three games of the postseason. He didn’t hit a 3 in the series until the fourth quarter of Game 2, when he got a four-point play that cut the Suns’ deficit to a one-point game.

In total, he made only two of 20 looks from deep over the first three games.

He let it fly in Game 4.

“I can’t really say I did anything different in these last two days to snap out of a shooting slump, I’m just embracing a little failure,” Crowder said. “We got through it a lot. Just embrace it and try to come out of it on top, and that’s only by working.”

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After series struggles, Jae Crowder’s 3-pointers help Suns win Game 4