London Community News
By John Matisz/London Community News
They don’t call them free-throws for nothing.
Eddie Smith did his very best Steve Nash impression before 2,039 at the John Labatt Centre (JLC) Sunday afternoon (Feb. 5), as his squad, the London Lightning, edged the Oshawa Power in overtime by a score of 129-117.
Smith, a 75.7 per cent shooter from the charity stripe coming in, drained 22 of 24 free-throws. The Springfield, Ill., native finished with 32 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. His stat line reads like a standard night from Nash, one of the National Basketball Association's finest ball distributors, and second best free-throw shooter of all-time.
"I told my teammates I was going to try to get 20 free-throw attempts in one of these last eight games," said the 6-foot-3 guard following London's fourth win in six tries against Oshawa this year.
"It finally paid off."
Already down starting centre Shawn Daniels prior to tip-off, London lost perennial league Most Valuable Player candidate Gabe Freeman at 1:30 of the second quarter. Both are listed as day-to-day, with Daniels continuing to suffer from a possible concussion and Freeman nursing a rolled ankle.
"There's no break, it's just a minor ankle sprain," London general manager Taylor Brown said of Freeman, who was seen on crutches near the court after receiving medical attention. "He's going to sit out Thursday's game, but will be back in the lineup Feb. 16."
As a team, the Lightning (22-6) shot 86 per cent from the line, almost 30 per cent higher than the Power (10-18). They also out-rebounded the opposition, 52-41, as small forward Tim Ellis pulled down a game-high 11 boards to go along with his 29 points, three blocks and four steals. Six-foot-six banger, Shamari Spears, pitched in 31 of his own, en route to the character-building victory.
The team's fourth win in a row looked to come comfortably at first, as the Lightning led by 11 points at halftime. Shrunk to five by the end of the third, however, a tie after 48 minutes of basketball was no surprise.
London's trio of Ellis, Smith and Spears went head-to-head with Oshawa's big three — Omari Johnson (31 points), Brandon Robinson (27) and Morgan Lewis (27) — from start to finish. After regulation, the six of them had combined for 155 of the game's 218 total points.
Just a minute into extra time though, Lewis fouled out and Ellis went on a personal 7-0 run. From there, clutch free-throws and timely defence sealed the deal for London, the National Basketball League of Canada's (NBLC) top shutdown squad.
"This is not a one-man show. We need everybody (contributing)," said Lightning head coach Michael Ray Richardson, who was fresh off serving a one-game suspension.
"We protected our home court, and that's exactly what we wanted to do."
London, one of the most veteran crews in the league, certainly displayed their poise in Sunday's win. Through 15 of 18 regular season home games, the Forest City's entry in the NBLC is a cool 13-2. Since losing to the Power Dec. 10, the squad is perfect in eight contests at the JLC, and 13-3 overall.
While neither Freeman or Daniels appear to be suffering from long-term ailments, it's the team's first run-in with multiple injuries. The timing may affect how the Lightning handles the upcoming trade deadline, which is scheduled less than two weeks from now, Feb. 17.
Richardson, who is not afraid of pulling the trigger on swaps, said shuffling the deck is not out of the question.
"I still have five moves, so I'm looking," he said of the league maximum.