ST. LOUIS -- That other oversized Michigan State point guard with a wicked handle and crazy court vision watched from the stands.
On the court, Draymond Green stole the game, the Midwest Regional and a tiny slice of spectator Magic Johnson's legacy at Michigan State. The sophomore forward's emergency duty at point guard Sunday in the regional final was the latest demonstration of why Tom Izzo is one of the greatest tournament coaches of his generation.
Izzo had planned for this moment, for a 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward formerly with weight issues to channel Magic in the clutch. The Midwest was won with a pass by Green, a mouthy sophomore. With Michigan State's point guard/leading scorer (Kalin Lucas) out for the season, with Lucas' replacement (Korie Lucious) sucking air, Izzo already had thought ahead to insert Green in the game plan and, ultimately, into history.
Game tied 69-69 and the clock winding down, Green almost willed the ball from Lucious' hands as the Spartans came up the court. He whipped a very Magic-like right-handed pass to Raymar Morgan near the basket. Morgan was fouled with 1.8 seconds left, made the first free throw and purposefully missed the second, leaving Tennessee 1.6 seconds to do nothing, it turned out.
Michigan State won 70-69, completing a four-game run to Indy that came by a total of 13 points. It wasn't a miracle so much as something pulled out of Izzo's backside at times.
And not without kickback from players like Green who, at times, can talk better than they can play.
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"Towards the beginning of the game, everything I did wrong he yelled at me," Green said. "And I looked at him like, 'Am I allowed to make a mistake?'"
"Not at this time of year," Izzo shot back.
It has been that type of season. A few weeks ago the only way this team was getting to Indianapolis was by hitchhiking. This week, they will be the toast of at least East Lansing, with Butler stealing Cinderella's party dress to the big dance. Sunday's win makes it six Final Fours in the past 12 years for Izzo and Michigan State.
This team, though, had no business getting this far, especially Green making the game-deciding pass with the seconds winding down because, at that point, he was the best option.
"At Michigan State we're used to 6-foot-9 point guards," said Magic, who revolutionized the position at that height.
Green and Johnson are actually three inches and a few decades apart but the point was made about point guards. Both men are tall, nontraditional ball-handlers. Green's accomplishments are a bit, let's say, less known to the public than Magic's. At Saginaw (Mich.) High School, he played as a 275-pound point forward.
"He was a little more roly-poly in high school," Izzo said, "so he brought it up the court a little differently. Nobody could get close enough to steal it."
Green had committed to Kentucky out of high school. The only reason Izzo got him was because Tubby Smith left the Wildcats for Minnesota.
"I thank Tubby every day," Izzo said.
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"The one guy he always trusts is always [Green]," Magic said. "He brings the spirit, the toughness to our team. He grew up last year in the Final Four. This year he was the one guy [who] stepped up and said we've got to stop playing selfish."
Selfish was the beginning of it. Izzo couldn't get this team to play together until lately. It happened despite, or maybe because of, Lucas going down last week with a torn Achilles' tendon. Another guard, Chris Allen, has a strained arch. Forced into action against Maryland in round of 32, Lucious hit the game-winner and played admirably Friday against Northern Iowa.
But Tennessee was going to make sure they took him out. Lucious was so tired and increasingly ineffective (five turnovers, 2 for 9 shooting) that Izzo was subbing for him on defense.
As Tennessee's Scotty Hopson went to the line with his team trailing 69-68 and 11.2 seconds left, two things very Spartan occurred. Lucious walked up to Hopson and said, "I need one of these [free throws] to come off."
Hopson made the first to tie it and Izzo called timeout.
"I told coach, 'Iso me up top,' Green said. "'Just give me the ball, I'm going to break them down.' I don't think he felt quite comfortable with that."
It didn't work out that way but the game did work out. It worked because everything this time of year seems to work for Izzo. Durrell Summers has taken over for Lucas as a scorer, becoming the most outstanding player of the regional with 21 points in the final. Morgan had a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds).
Hopson missed that second free throw and Lucious and the Spartans got their wish. Green came down and was magic.
Or is it Magic?