Fans at the Garden saw a dominant performance from a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate on Sunday. It was the former Knick, though, not the current Knick.
While Sixth Man candidate J.R. Smith and the other Knicks reserves struggled, Jamal Crawford scored 27 points to lead the Clippers to a 102-88 win. Crawford made 12 of 22 shots and Smith, who had six points, shot 1-for-9.
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"Jamal just hit shot after shot, and that's the Jamal Crawford that we love to see," said Chris Paul, who scored 25 points in his second game back since missing nine straight with a bruised knee. "With me and Chauncey Billups in, he can go back to his natural position and do what he does best, which is score, score the ball."
Crawford is the centerpiece of a Clippers bench -- one of the strongest in the league -- that outscored the Knicks' reserves 48-15.
The Clippers' Eric Bledsoe also had a big day, scoring 13 points and making all six of his shots. Amar'e Stoudemire, who had nine points, was the only other Knicks non-starter besides Smith to score.
It was an important win for the Clippers, who have been plagued by injuries but now have a full team healthy. The Clippers believe they can be a contender for an NBA title this season. Though Paul clearly is the biggest reason, the bench also is one of their biggest assets, something that can push them past a lot of other teams as players begin to feel the wear and tear of the season.
"If you look at our second unit, they could be starters in a lot of places," Billups said. "This is a deep team. A lot of times, our scrimmages are better than our games. I think we just wear teams down. The deeper we go, the better they get."
Crawford, who won the Sixth Man award two seasons ago with Atlanta, clearly was pumped up for the game. Crawford said the Garden is his favorite arena.
"I played here for a long time, and I felt like I grew from a boy to a man," said Crawford, who played with the Knicks from 2004-08. "I'm trying to come out and do the same thing every night. But it's always special to be coming back to the Garden."
One man who wasn't surprised to see Crawford play the way he did was Mike Woodson, who coached him for two seasons in Atlanta. "I love everything about Jamal Crawford," he said. "I really do. My short time with him was a beautiful ride to watch him play and develop into the best sixth man that year."
And maybe this year, too.