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Crawford breaks out, lifts Clippers in fourth

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LOS ANGELES -- When Jamal Crawford was asked about Klay Thompson's historic, 37-point third quarter and if he could remember ever being that hot, he smiled. "Oh, yeah," Crawford said, without missing a beat, before Monday's game against the Denver Nuggets. "Definitely." It was probably an appropriate response from one of only four players in NBA history (along with Wilt Chamberlain, Bernard King and Moses Malone) to score 50 or more points with three different teams.

Crawford pointed to his game against the Miami Heat on Jan. 26, 2007, when he was with the New York Knicks. He scored 52 points in 39 minutes and connected on 16 consecutive shots against the defending NBA champions at Madison Square Garden. Eight years to the day after his best game, Crawford didn't score 52 in a game or 37 in a quarter, but his 21-point fourth quarter helped the Los Angeles Clippers come back from a late, 10-point deficit to beat the Denver Nuggets 102-98 for their fifth straight win. It once again showed that Crawford, no matter how he is playing, is only one made shot from getting into a zone and taking over a game. Coming into the fourth quarter, Crawford had scored just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. It was seemingly an off-night for Crawford and the Clippers, who had fallen behind by as many as 16 points in the first half. That was before Crawford went off and hit 5-of-8 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line down the stretch to put the game away. "Honestly, I don't get into percentages because I think it tells only half of the story," Crawford said. "I take a lot of tough shots. Sometimes I take shots at the end of the clock. Sometimes I take half-court shots. It doesn't do me justice. I do not lose any confidence with me and my teammates and coaching staff. I have the best of both, and they always encourage me to stay aggressive." Not only did Crawford score as many points as the entire Nuggets team in the fourth quarter, but he was also a playmaker on the court, as he saved an overthrown outlet pass by Chris Pauland fed Matt Barnes a behind-the-back pass for a go-ahead layup with 1:24 left in the game. Crawford is often mentioned in trade talks because he's the only real asset the Clippers have outside the starting lineup and his contract is one of the more attractive ones in the NBA. He's due $5.45 million this season, and the Clippers have a $5.67 million option on him next season. But he is also the Clippers' only consistent presence off the bench and one of the five players coach Doc Rivers has on the court to end games. He might be dangled at the trade deadline as the Clippers look to retool their team, but they would have to get a lot in return for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and current NBA leader in bench scoring. "We lose this game four weeks ago, for sure," Rivers said. "Jamal kept saying, ‘We're going to win this game. I'm guaranteeing it. Don't worry. We're going to win this game.' ... Jamal is not a big talker, but he was probably saying that for himself, maybe. Maybe saying it for me so I would keep him in, but I was believing him. It was good to hear." Although Crawford struggled through the first three quarters, the Clippers weren't going to stop giving him the ball. In fact, they kept feeding it to him, believing he would turn it around sooner or later. They've seen him take over games and practices far too often to let a few missed shots dissuade them. "I told him that he was a little out of it in the first three quarters and that he did not get many touches," Barnes said. "He is an amazing scorer, and it only takes one shot for him to get going. So I kept talking to him, and he ended up with 21 points in the fourth quarter." It's the kind of confidence Crawford has always had in himself but hasn't always received from others, which makes his current run with the Clippers the most enjoyable he says he's had in his 15-year career that has spanned six teams. "When I was struggling, my teammates and my coaching staff just told me 'Keep being aggressive' and 'We believe in you,'" Crawford said. "When you have coaches and teammates like that, it makes the game easier. I am very confident. I have been scoring my whole life. You go through [tough] stretches as a professional. It really is about the mental toughness and how you bounce back."

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