By Sloane Martin, WCCO Radio
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Timberwolves’ home opener at the renovated Target Center, a 100-97 win over the Utah Jazz, was Jamal Crawford’s 1,184th game of his career.
At 37, that’s a lot of mileage to carry in a game that grinds away knees, deflates explosiveness and chips away at that quick first step season after season — at least, after age 33, or so.
But Crawford showed Friday how he’s sidestepped those natural obstacles en route to becoming something of an ageless player who is perennially one of the best reserves in the NBA.
Crawford’s 17 fourth-quarter points lifted the Wolves to the win. He went 6-for-7 from the floor, 3-for-3 from long range and 2-for-2 from the free throw line.
He was on the court in critical moments down the stretch, eventually knocking down the go-ahead shot — a baseline 3-pointer off an inbound play — with 28 seconds left.
“I couldn’t see the basket, but I’ve just shot it so many times I knew [it was good],” Crawford said postgame.
All that mileage isn’t a bad thing.
“He’s used to putting the ball in the basket,” Jimmy Butler said. “He’s done it for so many teams in his 17-year career. That’s what he does and that’s what we need him to do.”
Choosing to sign with the Timberwolves late in his career speaks to his expectations about where the franchise is headed, even in a very-stacked western conference. Young talent in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, plus the veteran additions of Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague made it a compelling fit for Crawford, who’s played in 69 playoff games over the course of seven of his 17 seasons.
When Crawford joined the team in July, both he and Tom Thibodeau — head coach and president of basketball operations — attributed his longevity to his steadfast commitment to taking care of his body every day: eating and sleeping right, and allowing his body to properly recover. That’s a tough 365-day-a-year task for even the most elite of multi-million-dollar athletes. But it’s second nature to Crawford.
“I think we’re seeing more and more of that now in the league,” Thibodeau said of Crawford playing so well at 37. “You look at Jamal, you look at Vince Carter, those guys and it says a lot about them. Because really at that age it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I think their love of the game, he’s got the body type, he’s not heavy, he’s light. To his credit, I think he plays year-round so I think he’s in great shape and I think that’s what helps him.”
It’s not surprising that Crawford, the three-time Sixth Man of the Year recipient, was humble about his performance.
“It’s really fun because, like you said, I didn’t know that until somebody told me,” Crawford said of his 17-point fourth quarter. “You’re not thinking about it. You’re not playing with an agenda, you’re just playing to win. I was frustrated in the first half. I missed some easy shots. I just stayed aggressive. My teammates and my coaches told me to stay aggressive. I was happy to play a small part in winning this game.”
It didn’t go unnoticed in front of a sellout Target Center crowd just shy of 19,000. His sterling performance was as glossy and impeccable as the new arena.