SALT LAKE CITY — Minutes into the start of Saturday’s Game 3, Houston Rockets guard James Harden picked up his second personal foul on Donovan Mitchell’s and-one 3-pointer from the corner.
With fans on their feet inside Vivint Arena, Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder gave Harden a slight nudge as he walked past, which prompted the reigning MVP to respond with a push.
Next thing you know, the two were literally face-to-face before being broken up.
“We had good energy,” Crowder said after the 104-101 Game 3 loss. “(James Harden) felt us a little bit.”
Plays like those, which don’t appear in the stats, are what Crowder brings to the table.
It’s why Jazz coach Quin Snyder inserted the 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward into the starting lineup for Game 3 of this first-round playoff series, instead of going with Derrick Favors like Games 1 and 2.
Although Crowder has struggled offensively in the Rockets series — averaging 6.3 points and 5.0 rebounds on 19 percent shooting — he hasn’t shied away from any physical contact, especially in defense of his teammates.
“That’s what we need from him,” said Jazz center Rudy Gobert. “We need him to be ready to take one for the team any time and he’s done that for us.
“It’s not only on him, it’s on all of us to have the same mindset and I think we do; we’ve just got to translate it to the court,” he added.
During the regular season, Crowder averaged 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 33.1 percent from 3 as the team’s fifth leading scorer. However, that 3-point shooting percentage has dipped to 20 percent through the first three games versus Houston, which is why he’s found other ways to contribute and Snyder trusted him enough to start for the Jazz in Game 3 for matchup purposes.
“Jae individually, and us collectively, there’s places in the game where you need to be tough and us recognizing those and embracing them,” Snyder said. “Some of the toughness is just mental.”
For Crowder, the playoff stage is nothing new as he has reached this point for six of his seven NBA seasons, including in Dallas and Boston. Crowder’s Boston squad reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-17 before falling to Cleveland where he contributed 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in a gritty Eastern Conference. For the former high school quarterback and Villa Rica, Georgia, native, that tenacious playoff intensity — like the minor dustup with Harden — is what he’s grown to enjoy.
“That’s what basketball is all about, obviously,” Crowder said. “That’s what I grew up playing like, just the physical type game and the playoffs bring that out of teams.
“You’ll see as all these playoff games go on, guys will get more physical,” he continued. “So, that’s what brings it out at this level is the playoff atmosphere and obviously, I love playing in that type of environment. You can’t shy away from it and if you do, it’ll be tough for you, so I embrace that opportunity to play physical and play in a hard-fought match.”