Johnson Steals the Love

Playing his first game since his initial snub from the All-Star weekend Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love had money on his mind. Fitting then that his first shot against the reeling Toronto Raptors Friday night was a three-pointer that set the tone for what many expected to be his showcase night. Even without an All-Star snub most nights have been a bit of a freak show for Love, whose rebounding prowess has started to grown in legend and his ability to pass and score becoming just as valuable to the future in Minny. In the end it was a 111-100 loss earned on the back of Love’s counterpart on this night, Amir Johnson. The combination Love’s 20 points and 15 rebounds along with Darko Milicic’s 15 and seven wasn’t enough to extend Toronto’s 13-game losing streak,
iphone 5s refurbished a spell they busted out of thanks to Johnson’s help in containing Love.

In this battle of basement dwellers the Raptors were looking to end the slide while the Wolves were looking to pop one of the few teams they have a shot at dumping, just as they did the week previous in a 103-87 win in Minnesota over the Raptors. With an interior that has been picked apart during their losing streak the Raps were staring down one of the most feared rebounders in the game and were in tough to minimize the impact of the emotional Love.

Love didn’t burst out in a “look at me” game. Not his way. Instead he did what he always does and has done for most of this season in staying level. Even when ESPN cameras followed assistant coach Bill Laimbeer into the visitors locker room about 20 minutes before tip-off to inform Love that he would be replacing the injured Yao Ming in February’s All-Star festiviites in Los Angeles Love was cool.

Early on it looked as though Love was still in rejection mode. With three minutes left in the first quarter Love had five of a possible 13 rebound opportunities for his team and combined with Milicic to shoot 6 of 7 in the opening frame for a 16 point tag-team effort . With the Raptors bigs showing some streak-busting initiative and point guard Jose Calderon displaying solid ball distribution the homers held a 33-31 lead after the first 12 minutes led by an impressive 10 points on 5 for 5 shooting from emerging shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Calderon chipped in with six first quarter assists to lead Toronto’s impressive 14 dimes on 15 made shots. On the other hand Love’s six rebounds matched the entire Raptors total in the stanza.

The second quarter started off with an extension of the T-Wolves’ first quarter ending run and a mid-quarter three-pointer put them in the lead. Alas, this affair was built to be a shoot ‘em up battle and as the quarter progressed the score remained tight as the Wolves dropped a chain of three-pointers on the Raptors while the home side attacked inside.

Then came an extended stretch of minutes where Love went carom-less while the red hot shooting from a suddenly peppy Sonny Weems and Andrea Bargnani paint game added to the Raptors’ assault. Despite being held off the boards Love still boosted his point total to 14 in the half. The two teams combined to put up 89 first half shots and Toronto entered the half time break with a 59-55 halftime lead.

Love’s second half started out slower than the first but his three-point shooting mark was the light in his rod.. His three of four shooting from the arc through six minutes of the third Q and a tidy 17 points and 10 rebounds by quarter’s end were key in keeping his squad in the mix. With all the hype Love has garnered this season the fourth quarter, when big plays and small mistakes make the difference, has been a struggle. How would Love’s unique brand of ball overcome the offensive show?

With the Raptors bigs finally finding some success after playing the beating stick for most of their season-sabotaging stretch the stage was set for a win. Through three frames Bargnani led all scorers with 24 points – finishing with 30 on the night – while front court mate Amir Johnson had clocked 19 points and 12 rebounds in 36 minutes in the contest while working admirably against Love.

In fact, Johnson stole the show and put another sock in the mouths of many who continue to question the lavish contract awarded to him last summer.

As Love’s low impact night continued Johnson’s hustle-man work complimented big shots from Bargnani and and a devilish 19-assist night for Calderon as ball movement and big plays from the front court feuled the Raptors’ drive. Efficiency was the word of the day and the bottom line in the eventual victory.