Jae Crowder felt a need to tell his new Bucks teammates he really wanted to beat Phoenix in his first matchup against the Suns last month in Milwaukee.
Grayson Allen didn’t think that was necessary for Tuesday’s rematch at Footprint Center.
“I think we understand,” a smiling Allen said.
Crowder played his first game in Phoenix since Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals the Suns lost to Dallas that abruptly ended their historic season. He scored 11 points in helping the Bucks top Phoenix, 116-104, before a sellout crowd of 17,071 to complete the home-away series sweep.
“I just flipped the chapter,” Crowder said. “I just flipped it and turned it into another one. I’m enjoying the journey of whatever this one holds.”
Crowder hit a trio of 3s with his final one giving Milwaukee (50-19) a 13-point lead with 1:24 left.
Casually running down the sidelines, Crowder had some words for the Suns (37-32), losers of three straight, and celebrated with his new teammates as Phoenix called a timeout.
“It’s just something that I do,” a smiling Crowder said about hitting the 3 as he went 3-of-4 from deep Tuesday. “It felt good, but like I said, I think our closing basketball was high level. That’s what we’re working for. Trying to figure out how to close, especially on the road.”
The veteran forward didn’t attend training camp as the Suns looked to trade him. It was a mutual decision between the team and Crowder, who reportedly was upset Cam Johnson was going to start over him.
Crowder shot down that narrative, but admitted after Tuesday’s game he’s gotten “too caught up” in being a starter and has a goal to close games for the Bucks.
“That’s what matters the most,” Crowder said. “Ending the game means more than starting the game. Even though both of them are pivotal, I just feel like for myself, I want to be able to put myself in a position to close games. I feel like I’m a good closer. I’m solid on defense and I can make other teams’ defenses pay on the other end. That’s my goal is to try to end games as best as possible.”
Crowder didn’t receive any heckling during his pregame workout, but he wasn’t sure about the fan reception for the game.
“I really don’t know,” Crowder said before the game. “Just happy to see some familiar faces in the back, the ushers and stuff. It’s good to see some familiar faces and say hello.”
Then the game started.
The Suns played a short video that ended with “Thank You Jae.”
Then Crowder was put up on the video board while on the bench and he received a resounding ovation.
Crowder acknowledged the crowd.
“Things ended in a bad way, on a bad note,” Crowder said after the game. “I appreciate the love and I appreciate the applause I got.”
He checked in the game with 5:23 left in the first quarter for fellow former Suns player Jevon Carter.
Then came the boos.
Crowder didn’t score in the first, but played his usual defense on multiple players and grabbed a couple of rebounds.
“Sometimes he’s doing what we’re supposed to be doing guys who have been for five years aren’t doing,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said about Crowder’s defense. “I don’t get it. He’s on point, he’s sharp. The attention to detail is very much there and very much appreciated and that’s coming into a team midseason at trade deadline.”
Crowder jumped out to defend Devin Booker at the top of the key and forced him to go left.
Booker got him back late in the third on a pull-up jumper accompanied by some chatter after putting on a dribble exhibition to pull Phoenix within one at the end of the third.
“It’s always fun,” Booker said. “High level competitor. We have experience together. I got a lot of respect for him. We just leave it on the court.”
Crowder just smiled as he headed back to the bench.
“What you guys didn’t know in training camp, I wanted that matchup,” Crowder said. “If I can guard him, I can damn near guard anybody in the league. That’s just a glorified practice right there what you saw. A lot of trash talking, a lot of bumping, but Devin is a hell of a scorer.”
Crowder got on the board with a 3 to open the second quarter and later nailed a second one to put the Bucks up nine with 10:10 left in the half.
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“It’s just been really seamless offensively and defensively,” Allen said. “He fits in perfectly with our team. Defensively, he brings a lot of energy, a lot of versatility. He guards a bunch of different positions and offensively, he fits perfectly into us playing fast, getting up 3s, driving and kicking.”
After his second 3, Crowder pointed at the Suns’ bench, but declined to disclose who he was pointing at after hitting the shot.
“Just the bench,” a smiling Crowder said.
Suns guard Cameron Payne said he was pointing at Crowder when Booker scored over him at the end of the third.
“Nine-nine really be starting it,” Payne said. “Nine-nine started it today. That’s just how he is.”
Crowder helped the Suns reach the 2021 finals and win a franchise-record 64 games last season in posting the NBA’s best record, but his time in Phoenix didn’t end well.
Along with the starter narrative, it was also reported he was looking for an extension as he was in the last year of a three-year deal with the Suns.
Through all of this, Crowder didn’t play one NBA game this season until Phoenix moved him to Brooklyn right before the Feb. 9 trade deadline as part of the Kevin Durant deal.
He later wound up in Milwaukee as part of a multi-team trade.
“It’s been great,” Crowder said. “Veteran locker room. Great welcome. Obviously, I’m still learning on the fly a little bit, but it’s been great.”
Crowder has been an ideal fit in Milwaukee so far.
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“He brings just a winning, competitive, high IQ perspective defensively and offensively,” Budenholzer said. “He understands what goes into winning, makes winning plays that may or may not show up in the stat sheet. Guy loves him. He’s fit in our locker room great. He’s got a voice, some leadership. We feel really fortunate to have him.”
Keeping in shape at Georgia Tech in his hometown of Atlanta, Crowder made his Milwaukee debut on Feb. 24 against Miami.
His next game was against Phoenix in Milwaukee.
Crowder hit two huge 3s in the fourth quarter of a 104-101 win as Giannis Antetokounmpo was out with an injury and Durant hadn’t made his Suns debut.
A month later, Crowder was in Phoenix and left with another win over his former team.
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Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.