A midseason game against Penn State isn't exactly Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
But Nittany Lions head coach Patrick Chambers likened Adreian Payne's return for the Spartans on Thursday to one of the most iconic moments in basketball history.
"It was like Willis Reed coming off the bench, the crowd was going crazy. It was a standing ovation," Chambers said after the game, a 82-68 win for Michigan State in East Lansing. "They used that, coach (Tom) Izzo used that really well as motivation for his team and for the crowd."
For the uninitiated, Reed was doubtful for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals with a leg injury that kept him out of Game 6. But he riled up the crowd by coming out for warmups before knocking down his first two shots of the game. The Knicks went on to win the game and the title.
The return of Payne wasn't quite that dramatic, but it was important.
Payne missed the previous seven games while nursing a foot injury before coming off the bench Thursday to score 12 points in 18 minutes. It's a much-needed return for the Spartans, who have done a great job weathering injuries this season. But getting back — or simply just getting closer — to full strength is key if the team is going to make the tournament run many think they can.
Michigan State still faces Branden Dawson's recovery from a broken hand, and now a new injury is forcing point guard Keith Appling out of action. But Payne's return is a step in the right direction.
"I was glad he was back. I want to play them at full-strength, because I’m a little crazy that way," Chambers said. "I’d rather play them at full strength and see where we are and see what we can do and see where we have to improve and get better at. ... He played great."