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07

Jun
2010

The Star Praises Amir, The Unsung Hero

There is no pretense to Amir Johnson, a guy who knows what he is and what’s asked of him, a basketball grinder who does not go seeking glory, caring only about doing his job.

He is energy and effort, not much flash but all kinds of substance and his contribution to a significant Raptors victory should not be underestimated.

The 6-foot-9 forward, surely the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the first half of the season for the Raptors, was instrumental in a 110-88 pasting of the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon.

He guarded Dirk Nowitzki and ran the floor, he finished at the rim and was active on the glass, and he provided a huge boost in the decisive second quarter. When it comes time for the Unsung Hero award, it has to go to Johnson.

“I know my role here,” the 22-year-old Californian said. “When I come off that bench, I’m pretty much running the floor, getting guys open, getting rebounds, doing anything I can do to give our team a lift. We pretty much didn’t need it (Sunday) because everybody had energy. We played hard.”

But none, really, played harder than Johnson, as has been the case in the overwhelming majority of Raptors games this season. He unfailingly tries to provide a spark, seldom goes long stretches where he’s uninvolved and for a team that was counting on the still-injured Reggie Evans to provide work ethic off the bench, he’s filled in admirably.

“Everything he gets is hustle,” coach Jay Triano said of Johnson. “Roll hard to the basket and if they don’t collapse, he’s going to finish the play; if they do collapse, he’s going to get somebody on the weak side open for a jump shot and I think he did a real good job creating both those opportunities for us.”

The Raptors were full measure for a thorough beat-down of a team that came in with the second-best record in the NBA’s Western Conference. Toronto took control of the game in the second quarter and didn’t cede it in the third.

They held Nowitzki in check with a variety of defensive looks – everyone from Chris Bosh to Johnson to Antoine Wright to Andrea Bargnani got a piece of him – and were never really threatened.

“It was great for us to defend our home court and we really needed to start beating good teams, especially here,” said Bosh, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds, getting the last 8 1/2 minutes of the game off as Toronto won going away.

“To get where we want to go, we have to win big games and (Sunday) was a big game. We came out prepared and I’m really proud of my guys for the way they played.”

The win got Toronto one game over .500 at 21-20, into a virtual tie for fifth place in the East, and was the kind of all-around effort that’s been lacking at times this season.

“We played like a team,” said Jose Calderon, whose excellent second quarter keyed a 34-18 Raptors run that gave them a 13-point halftime lead. “That was a great win for us against the second-best team in the West. We played for 48 minutes, everyone was ready to play and do things on the court.

“I think we beat a really good team. Every win is good but against them it’s a little bit better. We owed them because of the game down there (earlier this season) – they beat us pretty good. We knew that and we were ready for them.”

The Raptors had six steals and forced 11 turnovers that led to 18 points, the kind of aggressive defence Triano has been demanding.

“We kept sharing the basketball and moving, had great energy at the defensive end of the floor that leads to deflections and leads to transition points, leads to guys sharing the basketball, and I thought we did a good job in all those aspects,” said Triano.

So, was it the team’s best game?

“I have to watch the tape and look at it,” he said. “I’m sure, as a coach, we’re going to find small flaws here and there but as long as our energy’s good and we keep contesting and playing at the defensive end, I think we can find ways to score.”

Originally published in The Toronto Star on January 18, 2010

2 comments

JKryptonite said in Jul, 2010

This post is a true testament to how unappreciated and how underrated Amir Johnson is and has been since time. This article was posted on June 7th, 2010 and it only has one comment. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!
Where are all the true Raptors fans?!?! Must I make up for this act of defiance to show some respect and homage to a kid who’s giving this city the kind of basketball they need? I guess so. here goes…

(I apologize if i keep randomly switching between addressing the readers and speaking directly to Amir. I am writing this at 5:30 in the morning)

FINALLY, you’re getting some recognition for the hard work you’ve put in over the past few years.
I didn’t need to read this article to know what kind of player you are, nor do I need to look up stats to determine your value to any team. For anyone who doesn’t know, I am pretty confident that you’ve never been a guy who needed to fill up the stat sheet each night. I mean, it’s great for bragging rights, but at the end of the day, the only stat that seems to matter to Amir Johnson is whether or not his team is on the better end of the final score each night. He not only brings a level of professionalism to the court each night, but he clearly indicates his desire to play the game of basketball the way it was made to be played; as a team.
If the team needs Amir to score twenty-plus points, he’ll bust his tail trying to get those twenty-plus points. If the team needs him to chase down loose balls and block shots at will, he’ll show his opponents why they should fear him each time he steps foot onto the court. This guy can smell ‘extra possession’ the way Dennis Rodman did when he found ways to rebound the ball at will. Obviously, the comparisions to former greats will always have their share of debate, but I’m merely trying to state the fact that this kid has a knack for giving his team the extra possessions that end up being far more important than it appears. And I refer to Amir as a kid only to draw attention to the fact that he’s only 23 years old! (I’m less than a month older than him in actual fact). For the record, I’ve been a fan ever since you entered the league. During your stay in Detroit, I hoped that Toronto would pick up a young guy like you, and when I found out they did, I was most certainly pleased. To be honest, at first, I considered the contract you received this summer to be rather surprising and a bit hefty. No disrespect to you by all means, but I just felt for some reason that BC had overspent once again (in reference to Hedo’s contract as I considered it to be more than we should have offered considering it was perhaps a reaction to his stellar performance in the playoffs prior to signing with the Raptors). But after giving the signing a couple weeks to sit in my thoughts, I’ve come to a conclusion that not only was it vital to have you back next season, but for seasons to come. I didn’t want to see another young talent go off to another team, only to flourish after their departure. Not only do you have the work ethic and potential to fit the contract that you’ve earned, but you’ve also proven to be exactly what this team needs and has always needed: defensive tenacity and a model team mate that shows what kind of work ethic it is going to take to re-build and shape this franchise and its system. Given the fact that it takes time and commitment just to get the basics down, it’ll take much more than just Amir to get to where this team wants to be in the future and where it wants to be come next year and the playoffs. Amir will need to give this team everything he’s got, and I have no doubt that he will bring just that and more. It’s a matter and question of whether or not his team mates will assist him in his valiant efforts to propel this team to win as many games as possible.
He’s shown he’s got the potential to be in the starting lineup on this team, and he did it when his team needed him to. Let’s just hope that both he and his team mates can step up and amount to the pressure and the responsibility that they’ve been given. For any fans out there that wonder if they’re cheering does anything for the team…it’s guys like Amir that are fueled by the roar of his fans. It’s guys like Amir that not only have the will to run faster or jump higher, but he’s the kind of fuel our team needs to really step up our game and our intensity. It’s up to the fans to help tune the team into a state of perfect mental focus and defensive lockdown. These are professional athletes who will compete with or without our support, but as Raptors fans, let’s show our ability to bring consistency so that our team can always be reminded of the kind of effort it takes to win games; being in the game from beginning to end.
There is a saying that is perhaps one of the biggest clichés in the game of basketball, where a team aught to play full out for 48 minutes. I, on the other hand like to say play this entire game and every second that you’re called out to play like it’s your last shift. Play the way you want your team and your fans to remember you. I don’t think there is a single player that enters the league hoping to be remembered as the guy who only came to play sometimes. Nobody wants to be a mere shadow of the potential success they could have experienced their entire careers. And everybody wants to be a champion at the end of the day. It’s a matter of going out there each night and understanding the opponent is greater than the opponent we face that night. It’s about knowing that our competition is in fact the entire league, yet still breaking it down to face each game one game at a time, playing each one like it’s the one that counts most (a game seven-like situation if you will).
I wrote more than what most people would care to read, but this is the kind of passion Amir has for basketball and for success. So in the end, if for some reason, Amir cannot amount up to meeting your personal standards for what he needs to do to measure up to the contract he’s received, then understand this much before criticising him: he won’t give up even after the fat lady sings, and you have to know that he’s always giving it his everything. You can’t ask for much more than that. And of all people, I bet he‘s praying the most for God to help him get better with each day. With that kind of humble attitude, you can only have high hopes and trust that he’s every bit worth what we’re paying him. In fact, I can see it being a bargain and a half down the road when he reaches the end of his contract and everyone has jumped on the bandwagon as they could very well be looking at a perennial all-star in the making. Be afraid, be VERY afraid! This kid can fly, and he can work dudes in the paint. He’s not afraid to take the jump shot when dared, and he even tries to shake and bake his opponent with a nasty crossover at times. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen as of late to resemble the likes of a Kenyon Martin. Nasty on defence, not afraid to drop poster-worthy crownings on his opponents. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get plagued with any serious injuries, and I wish you all the best! If any current or future Raptors want an inside story of what kind of commitment and work ethic it takes to be valued forever in the books of history, take a closer look at the career of Alvin Williams. The commitment and work ethic he provided this ball club with is the exact reason why this franchise still covets his services and benefit to the team (now as a coach).
The only thing I can demand as a fan is to show me you have the heart and hustle to bring it all for every game and for every possession. I will do my part to keep you in the zone when im at the games. And when I’m not at the games, I just hope you can hear me through the television. If I have to cheer the loudest to get the place amped up, then I have no problem losing my voice each night for a chance to see this team play to it’s full potential. I entrust the team and the fans to do what is necessary to help amp each other up and more importantly, support each other in such an important phase of Raptors basketball. Andrea Bargnani, Demar Derozan, Jarrett Jack, Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa, Sonny Weems, and the list just grows. Everyone on the team is required to perform at the highest level each night, and whoever it may be that particular night, needs to step it up and ensure that their team is playing at 100% and not any bit less. Use the addition of coach P.J carlesimo to further hone your skills and your discipline to get better not a couple games later, not for the next game, but for the next possession. If not for yourself, for the sake of keeping your team in the game and with their heads up high. The team could be down by 20-plus points, but it could be as little as a firm message deployed and before you know it, you’re down by single digits and have shifted their attention to worrying about losing a ‘once impossible to reach’ lead. Never give up, and always give it everything you’ve got.

You never know when your hardest work will pay off, you can only give it everything you’ve got knowing it’s going to count for something down the road.

OzRapFan said in Jun, 2010

The best bang for buck player in the NBA.

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