Suns forward Jae Crowder is hoping to make his second consecutive NBA Finals appearance during his first season with Phoenix, writes Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Crowder signed a three-year, $29.2MM deal in the 2020 offseason with Phoenix after a productive 2019/20 run with the Heat, in which Miami eventually fell 4-2 to the Lakers in the 2020 Finals.
“Hopefully, once when we win the whole thing, I can salsa with the crowd, with the fans, some of the Phoenix fans here once we bring a championship home,” Crowder said. “That’s the goal.”
The 6’6″, 235-pound Crowder has carved out a niche as a tough two-way forward, capable of defending multiple positions and landing timely jumpers, writes Scott Cacciola of the New York Times. Crowder has earned a reputation around the league for his physical play, which he welcomes.
“Other teams just try to be physical with me, try to get me riled up,” Crowder told reporters after Phoenix’s Game 3 win in the club’s second-round playoff series against the Nuggets. “I don’t know if they know it, but I like that style of play. I like to trash talk. I like all of that because it definitely gets me going, and I think my team definitely feeds off it a little bit, the energy of it.”
There’s more out of the Pacific Division:
- Veteran Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul has achieved a first-time playoff series advantage this season in taking his first 3-0 start in any postseason matchup, per Jovan Buha of The Athletic. Buha notes that Paul, an 11-time All-Star, shows no signs of slowing down just yet, employing his veteran savvy to help propel Phoenix to the cusp of the Western Conference Finals. “He was using the clock well, coming off pick-and-roll getting into his spots, but it helps when you have guys like [Crowder] and [Devin Booker] and [Mikal Bridges] stretching the floor, and then [Deandre Ayton] puts pressure on the rim,” head coach Monty Williams said. “Defensively, he understands the moment. And offensively, just managing the game really well. But that’s what he’s done for a long time.” The 36-year-old Paul has been a steady presence to close out all three games in the final quarter. Buha notes that, in his 20 minutes logged across the series’ three fourth quarters thus far, Paul has tallied 30 points on 12-of-13 shooting from field, eight dimes, and zero turnovers. Paul has a $44.2MM player option for the 2021/22 season, though he may opt out in pursuit of a longer-term deal.
- Clippers center Ivica Zubac returned to Los Angeles’s starting lineup ahead of its Game 2 loss to the Jazz, writes Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register. The team felt that starting the 6’8″ Nicolas Batum at center, while beneficial for the team’s first round series against the switch-heavy Mavericks, was doing them no favors against three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. “I’m going to play hard and I’m going to work what my role is no matter what I do, and I’m not going to complain, and hopefully, [head coach Tyronn Lue] and the coaches appreciate that,” Zubac said of his matchup-contingent role with the club.
- Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue indicated that athletic second-year guard Terance Mann has fallen out of L.A.’s rotation, tweets Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. After playing for just 14 seconds in Los Angeles’s first playoff game against the Mavericks, Mann saw a more pronounced role throughout the rest of the series, playing between 10-26 minutes across the team’s subsequent six contests. Mann has played in just total nine minutes across the Clippers’ first two games in their second-round series against the Jazz, both losses.