It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria that is March Madness. I’m right there with you, chomping at the bit to press play on my PVR-version of the Mercer Bears‘ “upset” over Duke. Once the mayhem gets a hold of you, it’s difficult to look away.
That is, until one realizes what the pro-circuit had to offer. Friday night featured the annual major-player, Oklahoma City Thunder, suiting up against an uprising newbie to the upper-echelon scene, the Toronto Raptors. A matchup fitting, considering the Raps’ road to respectability started to be taken seriously by the masses when they stepped onto OKC’s home floor last December, leaving town with a victory.
The big ticket out-of-towners of Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook are always worth the price of admission (witnessing Westbrook’s ever-refusal to play second-fiddle is always a non-OKC crowd pleaser), although the Raps’ counter of dynamic duo Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan have held court just the same — highlighted by Derozan’s last 11 games coming into Friday, averaging the second most free-throw attempts per game at 10.5 (trailing only Durant at 11.2) and the ever-impressive best kept secret of Lowry’s win-shares, registering at a sixth overall level of 10.3, chasing the top spot yet again held by Durant at 16.7.
Now that the periphials have been established, it’s time for the guts of this game to be spilled. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Raptors’ continuous unsung hero, Amir Johnson.
Johnson now owns eight straight double-figure games, nine straight with a Field goal percentage north of 57 percent, and now a regular at the 30-plus minute per-game club. This non-headline grabber’s versatile style rose to the forefront in this seesaw war. Able to run the floor? Check. Willing to do the dirty work? Indeed. How about rebounding at both ends? Affirmative. Can he play hurt? Next question.
This tilt had it all: double overtime, jaw-dropping blown calls, and another appearance by Durant’s monster-self, including a crowd silencing game winning three-point money ball. An Epic 51-point dagger in the heart performance should seal MVP honors.
Although who was it with a tip-to-himself rebound that resulted in a game tying overtime-forcing bucket with 17 seconds left in regulation? The reason the Raptors were able extend this contest. Your wild guess would be correct.
These two squads have now recorded game of the year nominees both times out, splitting the season series. It wouldn’t feel right without a seven-game series rematch. NBA Finals, anyone?
Hidden Gem of the night award: Johnson’s 25 points, 12 rebounds and five block resume came in his 500th career game. He won’t be unsung for much longer.
Now, back to the madness.