The Artist Formerly Known as Air Canada returned to the Air Canada Centre and was booed every time he touched the ball, which added up to a whole lot of booing. But Vince Carter's reunion with his former followers (the third time he's played in Toronto as a visitor) turned out to be only about 10th on the list of the game's best subplots.
Many stories, one great finish
In what might have been the NBA game of the season so far, Carter rattled home an off-balance 28-foot 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining to knock off the red-hot Raptors 105-104. But as great as Carter's shot was, it was the game's subplots that gave it substance.
In somewhat random order:
Subplot 1: Carter's shot gave the New Jersey Nets a 10-game winning streak, the longest in the NBA this season. One peculiar aspect of this streak is that the Nets began it with a losing record. During the streak they have catapulted into first place in the "Titanic" Division, where they now lead the 76ers by four games.
Subplot 9: For a while, the game was as hotly contested and physical as any other NBA game this season. The fans' emotion toward Carter seemed to infect the game. The second quarter featured three technical fouls on the home team, and the Raptors collected two more in the third quarter. In one play, Jason Kidd was faked up and went shoulder-first (head-first) to the floor. On another, Jacque Vaughn dove under Mike James' legs and undercut him, dangerously. Even Carter dove for a ball and somehow wound up with Jose Calderon's head between his legs. As Nets broadcaster Jim Spanarkel noted, if the game had been played on asphalt, there would have been plenty of blood flowing.
One strange thing about the Toronto's five Ts is that the Nets scored only one point on them, allowing the Raps to maintain their lead throughout most of the game (until Carter's jumper). New Jersey missed four technical free throws, employing an odd rotation of shooters -- first Carter, who missed two; then Kidd, who made one and missed one; and then Vaughn, who shot and missed one, even though Carter and Kidd were on the floor.
Subplot 8: Two of the second-quarter technicals resulted in perhaps the most bizarre ejection in years, when referee Steve Javie -- known for his quick trigger -- nailed Morris Peterson with two Ts in short order. The second one, as you might have read in the Associated Press game story, resulted when Carter playfully slapped his pal Peterson, who gave him a little slap back.
While the AP says that Peterson was "clearly annoyed," that's not how it looked on the replay. Rather, Peterson barely touched Carter or looked at him, just flinging a backhand in Carter's direction in a friendly gesture.
Then, in something I've never seen before, Carter tried to persuade Javie that his opponent, Peterson, didn't deserve the technical. After the game, Carter said he would pay any fine that resulted from the technical foul.
Here's what I don't understand: Why couldn't Javie rescind the technical foul? When Peterson and then Carter explained that Peterson had not acted out of malice, why didn't Javie have the guts to huddle with his fellow officials and reverse the call? Refs reverse calls all the time.
Everyone would have respected Javie more for getting the call right than they do for standing by his hasty, unnecessary ejection -- which, by the way, might have cost the Raptors the game, because Peterson had had success against the Nets and also was guarding Carter.
Subplot 4: With Peterson out of the game, Carter hit his stride in the fourth quarter, scoring 24 points, all in the last 10:08. His shooting had been off the mark until then -- as he said in the postgame interview, he had started out too excited and trying to make everything. He scored the Nets' last 12 points, on two free throws, two putbacks and two 3s including the game-winner. He finished with 42 points.
Subplot 2: Lost in the hubbub over Carter and the Nets is the recent success of the Raptors, who were a tick of the clock or a borderline call or a missed Carter 3 from having the league's longest winning streak, at six games. Don't look now, but the Raps are just 3.5 games out of the 8th spot in the East.
Subplot 5: We can't do him justice in this space, but the emergence of 21-year-old Chris Bosh as a superstar is one of the untold stories in the NBA. The variety of skills he displayed in his 27-point, four-block performance was scintillating and lost in the shadows once again.
Subplot 6: And just when did Raptors' guard James become a star? Already Miami, Detroit, Boston, Milwaukee and Houston have given up on him, and he's just in his fifth season. But point guards who can score at James' rate -- he's shooting .440 on 3s -- and defend are not easy to find, which makes his journeyman status more puzzling. All I know is this: When the Raptors need a basket, they often go to James, and he delivers, as he did several times on Sunday, with his behind-the-head, Tim Hardaway-style jumper.
Subplot 10: OK, so a VC return to Canada doesn't seem like big news anymore. But don't think time has healed any bad feelings.
Of course, some of his former fans will remember that Carter was the first NBA star who made a big commitment to stay in Canada, and he was known for his community work.
But he became upset about the disarray in the front office, and the team's unwillingness to listen to him. And he committed a cardinal sin when he stopped giving his full effort, which accounts for the hatred of many Raptors fans.
All of which helps explain why he called his game-winner his biggest shot ever, and why former Raptor Lamond Murray, now with the Nets, said, "To stick a dagger in their heart right when they thought they were going to win it, it don't get no better than that. That's sweet revenge."
Subplot 7: None of the players Toronto acquired for Carter played for the Raptors on Sunday. Joey Graham, who was selected with one of the two draft picks Toronto got in the trade, did play 19 minutes on Sunday and has shown promise, though no one sees any All-Star games in his future. But Alonzo Mourning is long gone, and Eric Williams and Aaron Williams have played a total of about 135 minutes this season.
So when Carter was booed throughout the game, and when he made his shot, there was more going on than in perhaps any other game this season. Which made a seemingly ordinary midseason Raptors-Nets game anything but.
Kobe Bryant, celebrating Saturday's 112-109 win over the Clippers with Smush Parker, became the sixth player in NBA history to have three consecutive games of at least 45 points.
With the midpoint of the season just 10 games away, Knicks coach Larry Brown is finally starting to settle on the type of steady rotation he purposely avoided over the first two months of the season in order to get a feel for his newest roster. Sunday marked the fourth straight game in which Brown went with a starting lineup of Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson, David Lee, Eddy Curry and Antonio Davis.
I was asked quite a bit before the season how I thought the Knicks would do under Brown, and my stock response was to expect a poor start before things started turning around. Never did I imagine that bad start would include losses in 21 of their first 28 games, but it finally seems the Knicks have put their worst ball behind them while working through the chemistry issues that have plagued them since the start of camp.
Brown and Marbury remain somewhat distant and untrusting of each other, but Marbury has turned things around in a huge way since his 0-for-7 game in Orlando three days after Christmas, when Brown said it appeared Marbury did not want to shoot the ball. In his next three games, Marbury had 23 points and 12 assists, 32 points and 10 assists and 16 points and 11 assists. Add in what he did Sunday, and Marbury might even be in contention for Player of the Week honors.
Is Mullin Willing To Trade Youth?
Nelson Eager To Show He Can Start
See the Nets get the "Dimeth"-straight win, courtesy of Vince Carter's big shot, assisted nicely by Jason Kidd, whose streaking board crash on a missed free throw set up the heroics.
Slap Shot: Foiling The Raps
Before provoking his foe with a friendly slap, Vince Carter dropped two points on Toronto's Morris Peterson, who still had his shirt on at this point.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Earl Watson came off the bench to score a team-high 20 points in the Nuggets' 92-90 win in Houston. Watson played 21 minutes and made six of seven 3-point field-goal attempts. It had been nearly four years since a player made as many as six 3-pointers in so little playing time. The last was Michael Redd, who shot 9-for-14 from 3-point range in 20 minutes on Feb. 20, 2002.
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If you listen to New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank there are plenty of reasons why the Nets are the hottest team in the NBA.
During their 10-game win streak they are scoring 10 more points a game than they did in their first 21, allowing four less points a game and shooting nine percentage points better from three (now 42 percent) than they did during their 9-12 start.
That's all fine and dandy, but the real reason is the play of Vince Carter, the Eastern Conference player of the month for December.
Yes, this team has Jason Kidd, a triple-double waiting to happen. Yes, this team has Richard Jefferson, possibly the most versatile forward in the game. But if you go back and look at the numbers there is a correlation between Vince and the number 30.
Since Vince joined the Nets last season the team is 27-6 when he scores 30 or more points a game. This season they are 8-1. The one loss was the fourth game of the season (90-89 to the Heat). Prior to the Clippers game on Dec. 20, Jefferson reportedly told Vince, "take care of your own and stop worrying about the rest of us."
When Vince scores 30 or more he does so by shooting 53% (111-210) from the floor, 51% from 3 (22-43) and 89% (89-99) from the line. During this 10-game win streak, Vince is averaging 33.5 ppg. His season average is 24.9.
So, if I'm coaching the Nets I'm telling Vince to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids and I'll make sure your teammates get you plenty of shots.
-- Will Perdue
What Shaun Livingston said after Kobe Bryant dropped 50 on his cornrowed noggin, along with the rest of the Clippers for a 112-109 win Saturday, wasn't exactly Allen Iverson's legendary refusal to verbally genuflect before Michael Jordan.
But it was in the neighborhood.
Livingston gave Kobe his props to reporters ("He got hot") but made it clear he is hungry for a rematch and would've liked more of a role in stopping Bryant. Quinton Ross, Daniel Ewing and Cuttino Mobley shared the Kobe assignment most of the night, but Livingston had him down the stretch and played a part in Kobe missing four of his last five shots.
Afterward discussing with Chris Wilcox how he wanted to defend Kobe on a pick-and-roll play ("I wanted you to force him to my side of the floor"), he muttered, "Man, I didn't like that chant. Those are supposed to be our fans."
The Clippers were technically the home team and the fans, at first, dutifully booed Bryant every time he touched the ball. After his personal 11-0 run to open the fourth quarter flipped a four-point Lakers' deficit into a seven-point lead, though, the crowd began the chant that irked Livingston: "Ko-be! Ko-be!"
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy gave Livingston -- and not veteran Sam Cassell -- every chance to snatch the hero's role from Bryant, including control of the ball on the Clippers' last two possessions.
Livingston, unfortunately, had his first legitimate turnover of the night with 7.9 seconds left and the Clippers trailing 110-109. (Livingston was charged with three TOs against 10 assists, but the first was an offensive charge and the second came off a shaky inbounds pass by center Chris Kaman.) Playing pick-and-roll with Elton Brand, he went wide instead of knifing for the basket, allowing Smush Parker to snatch the ball for a breakaway dunk.
Dunleavy didn't waver, giving Livingston a chance to redeem himself with 4.4 seconds left. Livingston drove to the baseline this time and found Mobley in the far corner. Mobley sank the three that would've forced overtime but failed to beat the buzzer.
To some, Livingston might've been the goat. Me? I saw a hero-in-training.
-- Ric Bucher in Los Angeles