For your sake, I hope you watched the game last night. Yes, it was the last game of the season, and granted, it was against the lowly Celtics, but Amir Johnson made it worth it.
In 37 minutes, the talented teenager scored a game-high 20 points with 12 boards, four blocks and three steals. He shot 10-14 from the field, and two of his misses were from beyond the arc.
But the numbers only tell half of the story -- the guy just makes things happen around the basket. For one, he's like a human pogo stick the way he gets into the air. As he said in his post-game interview with Blaha and Special K, he gets a lot of buckets on putbacks, and he likes it that way -- he just goes after balls and picks up the scraps, which was how he ended up with six offensive boards.
And say what you want about the level of competition, but he was often snatching balls away from Al Jefferson, a walking double-double who played 37 minutes for the Celtics, as well as Kendrick Perkins and Ryan Gomes, who aren't exactly slouches on the glass, either.
The kid is just plain fluid on the court and a joy to watch -- if you can't tell by watching him play, you can certainly tell from his post-game interview that he's flat-out having a good time out there. It's obvious that he was looking forward to playing these last few games, and I only hope that his enthusiasm doesn't wane over the course of an entire season (especially when Flip Saunders inevitably gets inconsistent doling out playing time). Time will tell, but I don't think it will.
There's not a doubt in my mind that Amir is ready to play a significant role in 2007-08, and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he saw spot duty in the playoffs. Before I get your hopes up, though, realize that the Pistons are probably going to want Dale Davis and Nazr Mohammed active to help bang with Dwight Howard in the first round, and there's a chance they'll need those two again to handle Shaq in the second. If Chicago defeats Miami in the first, though, all bets are off, as Johnson could match up with the Bulls' Tyrus Thomas. I'm not saying it'll happen, just that it could.
(I'm getting ahead of myself and should probably rein things in, but just to give some of the regular readers around here context: remember how much I talked up Delfino last year? And how I've been crying for Jason Maxiell get more minutes this year? Well, my man-crush on Amir is at least five times larger. I had a hunch that Delfino and Maxiell could be solid rotation players, but -- in time -- I think Amir could be a star. Like, "face of the Pistons" type star.)
As for the rest of the game, Flip Murray and Carlos Delfino got the start as Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton sat out. Tayshaun and Rasheed Wallace started, but neither one played more than 11 minutes. Murray, who refused to comment on Monday's home-invasion attempt, scored 16 with five assists and three steals -- not to mention the game-winner with just 0.1 seconds left on the clock. Given all that he's been through, he's really performed on the court these past couple of games.
Delfino finished with nine points, seven boards and three assists, but he left the game early after rolling his ankle while driving the lane. According to the Free Press, Arnie Kander said Delfino suffered a sprained right ankle but would be fine for the playoffs.
Considering Delfino is Tayshaun's primary backup at small forward, this is definitely something to keep an eye on. Tayshaun doesn't usually sit much during the playoffs, but he's also the only starter who didn't have the "benefit" of missing any games with injury (and receiving the unintended time off to rest), so it'll be important to make sure he doesn't get worn down, especially in the early going before he really gets tested defensively.
Jason Maxiell also had a fine game, scoring 11 points with four boards before fouling out. We all know what Maxiell can do in the paint, but he showed some nice Antonio McDyess-esque range to his game with a couple of jumpers at the top of the key. That's always been part of his game -- he showed it more often early in the year -- so hopefully that'll become a consistent option. Lindsey Hunter followed up his 11 assists against the Raptors with another eight dimes in 25 minutes. At the very least, it's nice to see he has such a strong rapport with the second unit, though I've yet to see that from him for prolonged periods of time with the starters.