There really is nothing like it.
Not with T Mac.
Not with Mighty Mouse.
Not with AD.
Only with Vince.
Having attended both the return of Vince immediately after being traded, and last night's match-up (a 90-78 Raptors win), nothing gets the Toronto crowd in such a tizzy as seeing their once "Golden Boy" return to the ACC floor. You can actually FEEL the hatred in the chants. The boos are intense, and last night chorus of "Carter Sucks" was…nothing short of powerful.
Vince has now come across the border to face his old mates a few times since the infamous "trade" and every time it is a noteworthy affair. Whether it’s the smack of Mo Pete, the buzzer beater from near half-court or the plethora of guys dressed in diapers and bibs, each game is memorable. Carter has definitely had his moments in the ACC, as both a member of the home team and as a visitor. Last night however, the fans finally had their moment.
In what was one of the best games of the year the fans helped to will the undermanned Raptors team to victory (Bosh is now out "indefinitely") and despite what may be said…got to #15 as evidenced by his horrendous free-throw shooting in the crunch.
Of course the shower of boos didn’t stop Vince from prancing around the court and hamming it up with his old mates as if the game was actually the Vince Carter Charity Classic, not a battle for top spot in the Atlantic. In the post-game conference Vince was his typical care-free self giving no credit to the Raptors D or anyone else and simply seemed to just shrug off the loss.
One thing is for sure in the mind of this writer - Even if there was some small shred of plausibility to Marty York’s claim that VC would be interested in coming back to Toronto, and in spite of the team's swing-man troubles, I would have ZERO interest in having him back. In fact, I would be shocked if Jason Kidd is not raging inside about Vince’s poor attitude. Vince just doesn’t seem to get it. He has elite talent, but is not an elite player. Ok, down to the game itself.
When we here at the HQ broke down the keys to the game we stated, "Joey Graham might get the assignment (on Carter) however I’d rather see Joey guard Antoine Wright (who will start in place of Richard Jefferson.) Toronto needs Joey on the offensive end and his value will be greatly diminished if he’s forced to sit on the bench for picking up cheap fouls trying to guard Vince. No, I’d prefer to see Anthony Parker on VC and both he and Joey helping out on Jason Kidd (who will be looking to post up TJ Ford all night.)" Apparently Mitchell agrees.
Right from the get-go Mitchell had Parker on Vince and Graham match-up against fellow sophomore Antoine Wright. Great move. Parker played Vince as well as he could and Joey didn’t pick up his second foul until the second half. The result? A very effective Joey G on the offensive end, ending the first 24 minutes with a buzzer beating cram. Parker, despite the tough match-up only had one foul for the whole game and was also his efficient self on the offensive end.
Defensively this was not the only noteworthy event. Perhaps the biggest shocker to the whole evening was Sam Mitchell’s defensive game plan. Defensive game plan? Sam Mitchell? I would be the first to admit that these things don’t typically go together but last night was a clear exception. Toronto showed NJ numerous looks on the defensive end with a constant mix of zone and man, sometimes changing each possession. Although this did little to throw Jason Kidd off his game it was evident that the younger Nets were having a tough time adjusting. Players like Hassan Adams, and Antoine Wright simply looked lost out there at times.
Jason Kidd of course didn’t have his best game either and although it was clear that he wanted to take the game at TJ Ford, in the end it was Ford who took it to Kidd. The fourth quarter was TJ’s time to shine. It was fascinating in the fourth quarter watching the Nets defensive game plan. Right away Kidd would lay-off Ford, go under all screens and provide TJ with tons of space to operate from the foul line out. The strategy was clearly to reduce the effectiveness of Ford’s first step and make him beat them with the J. New Jersey was essentially looking to play 5-4 defense and make Ford prove he could hit from the outside. Well the strategy backfired. Not only did Ford hit the shots but he still managed to get to the hoop. The New Jersey defense showed TJ no respect and TJ was up to the challenge.
The unsung star of the game in my mind was Rasho Nesterovic. Someone, somewhere has turned on the switch and this guys is playing some serious basketball. Maybe he has taken a page out of Garbajosa’s book, maybe he just feels more comfortable, or maybe Mitchell is understanding what this guy can do, but whatever the reason Rasho has played out of his mind as of late. His solid defence on the likes of Dwight Howard and Nenad Kristic, his smart passing, and his less than flashy but efficient offence has provided this team with a much needed boost to the front-court.
All in all Friday nights game was an example of a total team effort. The energy was there and each guy played within themselves. The team only turned the ball over ten times and no-one seemed to force the issue. It was the complete and polar opposite of the Portland game. Who knows maybe the Raps have been watching so much NBA TV that the Adidas commercial has started to sink in…it takes 5.
Of course with an atmosphere like last night it may actually take six.