TACOMA — After returning from injury in Saturday night’s 4A boys state championship game and nearly leading his team on a comeback that would have resulted in an undefeated season and the title, there is no reason to doubt the toughness of Jackson’s Jason Todd.
But there was no Willis Reed-type ending for the Timberwolves on Saturday. Curtis held off a furious Jackson rally for a 60-56 win in the game that ended after midnight.
Todd, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, went down with an ankle injury midway through the third quarter. He got his ankle taped and returned to the game a few minutes later.
Down by 10, his return sparked the Timberwolves, who cut the deficit to nine at the end of the third quarter with a Dan Kingma 3-pointer.
Todd was hurt, but just how serious was the injury was unclear until after the game. Todd was helped out of the locker room in obvious pain and his ankle was severely swollen.
“He definitely wasn’t 100 percent, I will tell you that,” Jackson head coach Steve Johnson said. “He was definitely hurt. He’s in a lot of pain right now. He was hurt. How hurt? I don’t know if I can put a number on it at 12:30 at night, but he was hurt.”
The Timberwolves continued to rally in the fourth quarter behind Todd and Kingma. Jackson was able to cut the deficit to one, but could never get over the hump.
“He’s a warrior in every sense of the word,” Johnson said. “Always has been, always will be. I’m tremendously proud of him.”
While it was clear that Todd wasn’t even close to 100 percent, there was no doubt the Timberwolves needed him. Other players like Brian Zehr, who didn’t miss a shot from the field, and Kingma who hit two big 3s in the second half, were key in the comeback.
But they couldn’t have done it without their leader.
Johnson said after the game that he wished his star would have been at full strength.
“I wish Jason hadn’t been hobbling around,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to make excuses or take anything away from Curtis. They did a great job and they are deserving champions.”
Todd finished the game with 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot.
Just how heroic Todd’s return was is up for debate. But there is no doubt it caught the eye of everyone in the Tacoma Dome, but specifically his coach.
“I thought it was incredibly valiant,” Johnson said. “He was not himself. He just gutted it out, having to guard quick athletic guys. They kind of knew he was hurt. They went at him a couple of times. That’s the way it goes. It would have been a much better story from our perspective had we pulled off the win, but I can’t question anything that kid does in terms of effort and bringing it all the time.”
It seemed it was fitting that Todd earned tournament MVP honors. Even on a bad ankle, there was no denying Todd was the most valuable player on the floor.
“He’s one of the best defenders, one of the best scorers and he is a playmaker,” Johnson said. “He does it all. Even hobbling around the last third of the game, he kept us in it. Tournament MVP I think is well-deserved.”
After the game Johnson addressed Todd in a private moment. Johnson wouldn’t go into great detail as to what he told his wounded warrior, but he did share a bit of the conversation.
“Let’s just say that Jason takes a lot of pressure on himself and takes things really personally,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to make it extremely clear that he should never, ever, ever feel that he let anyone down, especially me. Because he has never let me down.”
Todd almost delivered a state championship on a bad ankle. The Timberwolves return the majority of their team next season, including Todd, Kingma and Zehr.
With the motivation of a bitter defeat to Curtis, if Todd returns to the state championship game at full strength next season, it’s worth thinking about what he can accomplish.
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.