Jamal Crawford played in his first game Tuesday after missing five weeks because of a deep right calf bruise that he suffered March 2.
After the Clippers’ 105-100 win over the Lakers, Crawford said his calf didn’t feel sore at all.
The rest of his body was another story.
Said Crawford: “My legs feel like I’m carrying one of my teammates on them right now.”
Crawford wasn’t able to start running until last week, and Tuesday was the first time he played five-on-five.
The reigning sixth man of the year finished with only four points on two for seven shooting, including missing each of his four three-point attempts in just under 19 minutes of play. It was a far cry from the 16.4 points on 40.1% shooting he was averaging before the injury.
“I was rusty,” Crawford said. “I looked and saw 19 minutes, but it felt like 35 minutes. That’s to be expected.”
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was pleasantly surprised that Crawford was even able to return Tuesday. He said when he and assistant coach Mike Woodson were at the Clippers’ practice facility about two weeks ago, Crawford could barely get out of his car.
“We looked at each other,” Rivers recalled before Tuesday’s game, “and said, ‘Well, that’s not a good sign.’”
Crawford said he turned a corner after fluid was drained from his calf for the second time about a week ago.
One of his goals was to get in some games before playoffs started.
“It’s very important because to be out that long, for that amount of time, and then coming back in the playoffs and think everything is going to be normal is not realistic,” Crawford said. “So I think getting these games out of the way, getting the rust off, getting timing, getting better conditioning, game shape, will help me tremendously.”
The Clippers (53-26) are in a virtual tie for third place with the Memphis Grizzlies with only three games remaining in the regular season. They are only one game behind the second-place Houston Rockets, and only 1/2 a game ahead of the sixth-place San Antonio Spurs in the ultra competitive Western Conference.
Being sidelined for so long was challenging for Crawford, who is always in the gym playing basketball. He spends his free time over the summer watching pickup games at LA Fitness, and even organized a scrimmage with fellow NBA players for his bachelor party this past summer.
He estimates that he’ll be back at 100% by the time playoffs start, and described his biggest challenge until then as a mental one.
“You see something on the court and you know you can do it,” Crawford said. “But the fatigue is like no, you can’t do it.”