While he’s not the marquee name on every fan’s jersey, former Miami Heat forward Jae Crowder is the only player on both the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks to ever play in a Finals game before. However, following Crowder’s game-winning alley-oop during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, it’s clear his star power is shining through.
As for the Heat, there’s no questioning that their decision to let Crowder walk last season was a mistake. Miami’s inconsistent level of play this season followed by a first-round sweep proved as such.
While the Suns are battling it out for the title against the Bucks, Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra sent a strong message to his former player in an e-mail to The Ringer.
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“I love Jae and what he’s all about,” Spoelstra wrote. “He’s a winning player. He has a toughness in the way he competes, but he also has a sincerity and authenticity that makes everyone want to go to battle with him.”
Crowder Still Exudes Heat Culture While Playing with the Suns
During his return to the Finals this year, Crowder continues to exude Heat culture. He doesn’t care about being a star player, his focus is on winning:
I’ve been every type of player you can think of. I’ve been the main guy, I’ve been point guard, I’ve been in center, I played all types of positions. I’m not selfish. I don’t really care about a lot of stuff that a lot of people may care about as a basketball player. I just care about winning, because winning trumps all. That’s why you train so hard—you’re trying to win and be the best. I think that’s my motivation.
Crowder didn’t just attach himself to a better team this season, he’s having one of the best campaigns of his career. During the postseason, he’s drilling 65.4% of his shots and shooting 39.1% from beyond the arc.
The Heat Were Never Able to Find a True Replacement for Crowder
Crowder, who played a crucial role in helping the Heat make it to the NBA Finals in the bubble, wanted a multi-year contract with Miami, but the franchise only offered the 30-year-old forward a one-season guarantee. Crowder went on to sign a three-year $29 million deal with the Phoenix Suns.
While Miami struggled on both offense and defense without Crowder in the mix,
his aggressive style of play is well-admired by Suns’ teammates.
Following Phoenix’s dominating 118-105 win in Game 1 last Tuesday, Devin Booker sang his praises:
You understand he’s been there before,” Booker said. “Our whole team understands he was just [at the Finals] last year. We bank on him for that toughness. He’s always communicating with our team and being honest with them. When somebody’s slacking, Jae’s letting them know. Even if it’s aggressive, if you’re slipping up, he’s going to get on you.
While back-to-back Finals appearances are exhausting for the mind and body, Crowder remains hyped. “I’m chasing it. That’s my motivation. That’s what I’ve been preaching to the guys,” Crowder said. “I’m chasing that feeling again. I’m chasing the moment.”