The Lions enjoyed a strong first period and led 13-10 at the interval but the second half was a different story and the hosts were never really in the contest after an early Crusaders try by Sean Maitland as the visitors scored 13 unanswered points.
The match did not start well for the Lions with fullback James Kamana leaving the field on stretcher two minutes in after sliding neck first into the knee of one of the Crusaders players.
Despite that setback, the Lions took the attack to the Crusaders, only to be let down by unforced errors as they tried to force an opening.
Butch James and Tom Taylor swapped penalties as both teams got on the scoresheet in the opening 22 minutes before the former slotted over his second attempt to put the Lions 6-3 ahead.
The first try of the match went to the Crusaders though as the New Zealand side converted their only genuine opportunity of the period in the 31st minute.
First five-eighth Dan Carter dummied to his outside before slipping a clever pass to Zac Guildford on his inside to cross for a try that Taylor converting to make it 10-6.
That advantage lasted just five minutes though before the Lions hit back with a try of their own.
Franco van der Merwe was held up in the tackle by Andy Ellis as he tried to ground the ball, but the hosts continued to press and they got the score through Pat Cilliers, with James adding the extra points.
The Ellis Park crowd was, however, stunned into silence shortly after the break with the Crusaders scoring another well-worked try.
The visitors worked possession to Israel Dagg who grubber-kicked the ball through to Maitland to score in the right-hand corner.
Taylor converted that to make it 17-13, and he then further extended the Crusaders advantage with another penalty five minutes later.
With the Lions struggling to match their first-half performance, the Crusaders finished the game off with Taylor adding his third penalty of the contest in the 63rd minute to take his personal points tally to 13.