When Vince Carter checked in just past the midway point of the third quarter of the Dallas Mavericks' Wednesday matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he wasn't wearing a headband. This seemed odd to me, as he wore one throughout the first half, and has worn one for most of the last decade. As he got ready for his first action of the second half, I was prepared for something weird to happen.
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I just didn't expect the weirdness to be so physical.
Playing as part of a super-small Dallas lineup that saw 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair manning the middle, Carter and second-year wing Jae Crowder were tasked with swarming Thunder center Steven Adams as he got the ball along the left baseline. Carter got his forearms up on the 7-foot rookie's back and shoulders, pushing him toward Crowder, who was swiping at the ball for a steal. Adams fought his way through it by getting the ball up high, swinging his arms a bit to clear space, stepping through the double-team and passing out to safety-valve Serge Ibaka near the foul line.
As Adams cleared space, he caught the smaller Carter up high, which the 16th-year pro didn't appreciate; as Carter moved toward the basket and into offensive rebounding position after Ibaka's shot, Carter let the young New Zealander know so, swinging his right forearm and elbow up at the 20-year-old big man's head. (Adams, it appears, has a strong chin, walking straight through Carter's swing and getting directly to the front of the rim.)
Whistles blew, play stopped, referees assembled and punishment was meted out — a technical on Adams for the show that drew Vince's ire and a flagrant foul-2 for "unnecessary and excessive contact" for Carter's retaliation, which brings with it an automatic ejection and a fine of at least $2,000. I'd bet on the league office ramping that fine up a bit, and perhaps even extending Carter's stay on the sideline for the blatant high shot.
The 36-year-old swingman sounded a regretful note after the game, according to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:
“I just want to apologize to the fans of both sides,” he said. “There’s no need for it. They’re trying to clean up the game and make it fun for fans to watch. It was one of those things where I got caught in the moment and reacted to a reaction that was done to you. My intentions have never been that way. It’s just one of those things.”
Asked if he thought the league would suspend him, Carter said: “It is what it is. There’s nothing you can do. I hurt my team giving up free throws and points, so, I just have to deal with the consequences and move forward. It happened. Sometimes when you do something like that, you wish you could take it back. It was a physical game. We have a lot of history. All of them have been chippy and edgy.”
Carter exited scoreless, having missed all four of his field-goal attempts in 14 minutes of play. His most notable non-elbow moment came not as a result of his own estimable skills, but rather as a foil to Thunder star Kevin Durant, who singled Carter, one of his childhood idols, out for some top-of-the-key evil in the first half:
So maybe that's why Vince was in such a surly mood. Or maybe it's just that familiarity breeds contempt — the two teams have played 21 times since the start of the 2010-11 season, with each side taking a playoff series (Mavs in five in 2011, Thunder in a sweep in 2012) and OKC having won the last 11 straight meetings. The chippiness and physicality was on display throughout, and one element in particular stuck in Crowder's craw, according to Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
"You saw it," said forward Jae Crowder, who came off the bench to pour in 17 points for the Mavs. "I don't know what type of guys they think we are, but they thought we were going to lay down and the guys felt that and we just tried to stand up to them, and that's where it went tonight.
"I'm not surprised that it went that route because those guys talk a lot of smack and they can get under your skin with it."
Russell Westbrook (22 points) apparently got under Crowder's skin with 1:32 left in the game because they both received technicals for exchanging some unpleasantries.
"The play before that when (coach) Rick (Carlisle) called a timeout, (Westbrook) threw the ball at me," Crowder said. "That's when Dirk (Nowitzki) was talking to the refs and saying it was a delay of game, but he said it couldn't be a delay of game because we called timeout.
"But he threw the ball at me, he hit me, and I didn't like that at all. It's disrespectful."
So that's another pairing to keep an eye on the next time these two teams tangle. Maybe any lingering heat will have cooled by March 16, 2014, though.
While Carter got the gate, Adams stayed in and contributed. The young bull set some stiff screens and crashed the glass, finishing with six points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block in 20 minutes of burn in the Thunder's 107-93 win, and his impact went beyond that box-score production, as Durant told Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman: “He does all the little things for us [...] He's getting better every time he steps on floor. Tonight was no different.”
Well, it was a little different, what with the walking-through-an-elbow-whistled-at-your-chin thing:
“I saw it on the replay and said, ‘Goodness,'” Jeremy Lamb recalled. “Looked (at him) and I said, ‘Did that hurt?' He said, ‘What?' I said, ‘the elbow, did it hurt?' He was like, ‘Not really.' So he's a real tough kid.”
Lamb put it well, but Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki put it even better:
Dirk Nowitzki on OKC rookie center Steven Adams' willingness to mix it up: "They've got the white Kendrick Perkins now."
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) November 7, 2013
I'm not sure whether that description is more of a bummer for Thunder opponents or fans at this point, but if Adams can earn the kind of trust with Thunder coach Scott Brooks that Perkins has over the years, it seems likely that we'll be seeing a lot more of the rookie big man out of Pitt in the weeks and months to come.
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