The Nets have hit their roughest patch of a once-promising season, losing five straight and going 1-9 in their past 10 games as they limp toward the All-Star break. But a silver lining has emerged in the past two games as low-key Allen Crabbe has stepped from the shadows to assert himself as the dominant scorer his teammates, coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks believe he can be.
Coming off a season-high 34-point performance Wednesday at Detroit, Crabbe delivered 28 points and tied his career high with eight made three-pointers, including one that sent Saturday’s game against the Pelicans to the first of two overtimes before the Nets lost. In those two games, Crabbe averaged 31.0 points and shot 50 percent from the field (23-for-46) and 43.8 percent from three-point range (14-for-32).
The fact that Atkinson put the ball in Crabbe’s hands for the final shot of regulation was significant. “Coach has confidence in me,” Crabbe said. “If I miss shots, he’s like, ‘Who cares? Just keep putting them up.’ The last two games, that’s the way I need to play. I should have been playing like this from Day One.
“It’s something new, a new adjustment, a new team. The last two games, I’m not playing with a conscience, I’m not thinking, I’m going out there and hooping. I think it’s working well, and hopefully I can carry this over to the next game and after the All-Star break.”
The next game is Monday night at Barclays Center against a revamped Los Angeles Clippers team, and it will be interesting to see if Crabbe continues to be assertive. Atkinson recently suggested it is in Crabbe’s laid-back nature to simply fit in with his teammates when the best thing he can do is step up and be the shooter who last season was second in the NBA in three-point shooting at 44.4 percent.
“Maybe that Detroit game sparked him, because he was the same guy [against the Pelicans],” Atkinson said. “Sometimes guys revert back to being passive, but he was the same tonight. I loved how he played and I loved how aggressive he was . . . And I thought his defense came along with it. I thought he competed his tail off defensively, which we’re really happy with.”
In 2016, Marks signed Crabbe as a restricted free agent to a four-year offer sheet worth $76 million that Portland matched. The Trail Blazers decided that was too much for a guy scoring 10 points a game off the bench and traded him to the Nets last summer. He’s still averaging only 12.3 points (a career high), but Crabbe is learning he has the ultimate green light.
“It’s great to know that this organization, the coaching staff, has a lot of confidence in me,” Crabbe said. “So I just want to live up to it, man. That’s all it is. It’s not worrying about outside people and reports you see about how I’ve been playing. It doesn’t matter. As long as I have confidence from them, I’m good.”
Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie smiled when asked about Crabbe’s recent breakout, saying, “After Detroit, I said we finally saw ‘A.C.’ and then we saw ‘A.C.’ again tonight and we’re hoping that we continue to see ‘A.C.’ and we don’t see ‘Allen’ again.”
Crabbe had to laugh when that comment was relayed to him. “He always jokes with me,” he said. “He says when I don’t have the good games, I play like ‘Allen,’ and when I’m aggressive and doing what I need to be doing, he says I’m playing like ‘A.C.’ That’s just our little trash talk to each other. It’s good, though. I want people to tell me I can give more and I can do more.”