Much has changed for Jae Crowder since the Mavericks traded him in 2014 as part of the Rajon Rondo/Dwight Powell deal.
He’s played for five different teams since that swap sent the popular forward on his way.
He developed a 3-point shot, something the Mavericks started teaching him back when he was a rookie.
He signed a $35-million, five-year contract back when he was with Boston – not bad for a second-round draft pick.
He even played with LeBron James in Cleveland, but played against him much more often, including during these NBA finals.
Crowder, who was very much a fan favorite when he was a workaholic rookie with the Mavericks, is in the hunt for an NBA championship in a series that has taken some odd turns but now stands as very much a challenging test for James and the Los Angeles Lakers after the shorthanded Miami Heat and Crowder rode a historic night by Jimmy Butler to cut the Lakers’ lead to 2-1 going into Game 4 Tuesday.
With all that has changed for Crowder, one thing most definitely has not.
He remains a selfless player who will do whatever is needed to make his team better and give it the best chance to win.
That includes guarding Anthony Davis.
Though he gives away a solid four inches to the 6-10 Davis, Crowder often had the job of shadowing the Lakers’ all-star. Not that it’s something he relishes, as he said when asked about the chore of defending Davis at Monday’s off day interviews.
“I just take on the challenge,” Crowder said. “It doesn’t matter if I like it or not. I take it on.”
And make no mistake. Crowder knows it’s not a job for the timid.
“Obviously, it’s a tough task for anybody in our league to take on that challenge,” he said. “But I’m willing to do it. And I try to do it at a high level, try to make it as difficult as possible.
“I know I’m not going to stop him, but I can make him work and I can make it as tough as possible and try to wear him down as the game goes on.”
Crowder said that one of the goals of the Heat’s team defensive scheme was to keep Davis off the boards. He had a slew of second-chance points earlier in the series.
But on Sunday, Davis had only nine field-goal attempts and just five rebounds.
In the first two wins, Davis had 41 shots, 11 offensive rebounds and averaged 33 points.
Clearly, something changed. The Heat forced 19 turnovers, five of them by Davis.
There also were eight giveaways by LeBron James, with whom Crowder was a teammate at Cleveland for part of the 2017-18 season after the Kyrie Irving trade. Crowder would be dealt to Utah later that season. And from there, it was Memphis and, finally, Miami, with Andre Iguodala, who also is playing a big role in Miami’s dream run to the finals.
But in the way, there is James, and Crowder knows all too well how tough it is to beat arguably the best player ever once, much less four times.
“I mean, if you’re trying to get to the top of the food chain, you’ve got to go through him,” Crowder said. “Obviously, I joined him and I just took from him his approach to the game, whether it be physically, mentally – just his total approach is high-level.
“(But) there’s no way around it. At some point if you’re trying to get to the top, you’ve got to through him. I like that as a competitor. You don’t want anything to be handed to you.”
No worries there. The Lakers still are up 2-1 in the series and the Heat are considered by many to have pulled off a minor miracle to get one win, given that two of their best players, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic were out in Game 3 with injuries.
They may be out again in Game 4. But the Heat showed that they have the heart – and a fair amount of talent beyond Adebayo and Dragic – to compete at the very highest level.
So what’s it going to take to continue the magic?
“I just thing we have to start games well and find a way to sustain that,” Crowder said. “And close out games and put ourselves in position to close out games and not play from behind.
“Obviously, that (playing from in front in Game 3) was big. But at the same time, we have two major guys out. We have to fill that void collectively and I think that’s what we did (in Game 3).”