ATLANTA — Jamal Crawford was playing like a rookie, even though he's been in the NBA for a decade.
He seemed jittery. He wasn't playing with his usual abandon. He looked like his own worst enemy when he went up for a jumper, his form all out of sorts instead of nice and smooth.
"I've been through slumps before, and this didn't feel like a slump," Crawford said Saturday, having put up a few last shots at the end of the Atlanta Hawks' practice. "I felt like I was blocking my own shots, throwing myself off by putting too much pressure on myself instead of just having fun.
"At the end of the day, it's still basketball. I've done this most of my life. I enjoy doing it. I just had to go back to doing that."
Crawford can be excused for his nervousness. He waited 10 years for this moment, finally making the playoffs after being traded to the Hawks last summer. He struggled through the first five games, hitting less than a third of his shots and making just 4 of 18 from the field in Atlanta's shocking Game 5 loss to the underdog Milwaukee Bucks.
But the series — heck, the entire season — on the line, Crawford finally stepped up and played like he had during the regular season. The NBA's Sixth Man of the Year led the Hawks with 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, while chipping in with five rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Atlanta pulled out an 83-69 road victory that sent the series back south for a decisive Game 7 today.
The Hawks will be counting on a similar performance out of Crawford.
"He's been tough minded, man," said teammate Joe Johnson, the Hawks' biggest star. "To come out the way he played last night, he shows he's not scared of the big moment. He made a lot of big shots, a lot of big plays. He even stuck his nose in there a lot of times and came with some big rebounds. That's what we need out of him, especially off that bench. He's been the guy. I thought he picked us up last night and got us over that hump."Of course, the work isn't done. For the third year in a row, Atlanta has been extended to seven games in the opening round.
"I don't know what it is," Johnson said, shaking his head and managing a weak smile. "I guess we just like going seven games."