By John Matisz/London Community News
The season may be just past its halfway point, but "M-V-P" chants have already become a regular feature of London Lightning games at the John Labatt Centre (JLC).
While watching the home squad pick away at a 15-point deficit created by the Halifax Rainmen (12-5) Saturday night (Jan. 7), the Lightning faithful expressed their gratitude towards forward Gabe Freeman – a man who has quickly become of the league's most coveted all-around talents.
"How can he not be the MVP?," London head coach Michael Ray Richardson asked rhetorically following the 97-87 win over the No. 2 team in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) in front of a boisterous crowd of 2,882.
To go along with four steals and three blocks, Freeman recorded 29 points and 22 rebounds – a seemingly regular night for the NBLC's leading double-double threat, who is averaging 17.2 points and 12.75 rebounds per game. In a 106-98 win over the Summerside Storm the night prior, the 26-year-old had an "off-night," registering 16 points and 10 boards.
With a minute left in the game Saturday, the Phoenix, Ariz., native climbed onto the scorer's table to further entice fan involvement. Though he had been egging on the electrified crowd all game by waving his arms up and down after most whistles, the unexpected jump onto a sideline table took his feel-good antics to a whole new level.
"I'm an energy player and the guys feed off me," the 6-foot-7, 215-pounder said after his club's 16th win in 20 games, "and if I get the crowd into it that's the gasoline, the fuel to the fire."
"That was the first time (I've jumped up on a scorer's table during a game), but definitely not the last," he added, with a grin.
Down by 15 at halftime, the Lightning gradually caught up to the Rainmen, who rolled into the Forest City as the hottest team in the NBLC, having won nine straight. The win was the Bolts' fourth straight and sixth over a seven-game span.
Also providing valuable contributions to the come-from-behind victory was the common tandem of small forward Tim Ellis and shooting guard Eddie Smith. Both collected 21 points, with Ellis leading a massive third quarter rally through a 14-point personal scoring spree.
"We just chipped, chipped, chipped," Richardson said of breaking down the Rainmen's sizable lead. "In the second half, we played defence, and defence wins games."
In the first two quarters, Halifax was lights-out from the field, hitting 20 of 41 shot attempts. They fell down to earth after recess, however, eventually ending up with a 42.9 successful shooting rate.
Three of Halifax's five defeats in their 17 games played have come at the hands of London. Their top point producer in the 10-point loss Saturday was small forward Lawrence Wright, who amassed 17 points in the losing effort.
One of Wright's teammates, Tyrone Levett, was actually London's first ever draft choice this summer, as he went third overall in the 2011 NBLC Draft. Sent to Halifax in a November trade in exchange for past National Basketball Association player, Rodney Buford, it was the Alabama State University alumnus' first trip back to the JLC.
"I wanted to take the challenge," Levett, 31, said of returning. "And the reason I say that is because (the Lightning) are No. 1 right now. We came out today and played our game early on. But then we stopped doing the things we needed to do to be successful."