Tue Nov 11 09:00am EST
Sweet Eddie Harris in heaven, what a game.
The easy misconception is that the Toronto Raptors raced out to an early lead mainly because the upstart Raptors cared, and the defending champions from Boston needed to be prodded with a stick before competing. Hogwash. The Celtics cared, they tried, they worked, and they were bested. Boston made some mistakes, no doubt, but Toronto took that first half lead because they were outplaying the champs.
And after that, the champs acted like champs. Wouldn't even let Chris Bosh get to the strong side, much less allow him the ball in triple-threat position. Taunted the seemingly ultracool Jose Calderon into a finger-pointing frenzy. Boston had Toronto not talking, and while that is incredibly grammatically incorrect, it's also the truth. The Raptors couldn't keep up, they could make decisions on the fly, they couldn't think on their feet, and they weren't pushing each other into the positions needed to advance.
There's no shame in that, in November. Toronto hasn't been through this sort of wringer before, and this can't help but aid in the team's growth. And give the cats credit: Toronto hung in there. The ball was moving. Anthony Parker and Jason Kapono were nailing impossible shots. Jose Calderon didn't back down. Jermaine O'Neal tried. They were just up against the champs.
If none of this makes sense, understand that the Raptors raced out to an early double-digit lead with Boston missing more than a few shots they usually make, but mostly because the Toronto defense was forcing Boston into perimeter looks that were semi-passable but not something any team should bank on.
Toronto, on the other end, went to Jermaine O'Neal early and often. JON took a few shots he shouldn't have (one jumper off an offensive rebound with 22 seconds on the shot clock left kind of said it all), but he was effective, and killing the C's. The lead usually stayed at 15.
Slowly, the Celtics got back into it. Two stops in a row instead of one. Three scores in a row instead of two. Things got manageable, and then Paul Pierce got real, real unmanageable. He played the entire second half, and had 25 points over the final 15 minutes of the game. Drives, pull-ups, three-pointers, nonsense. Just the Truth at his best. Jason Kapono seemed to get a lot of it, but all the Raptors got a taste.
The other thing that stood out was Chris Bosh's honest-to-goodness disappearing act in the second half. He had three points (nine in the game), but didn't score in the fourth quarter. Didn't even take a shot. And, honestly, I don't know how any mortal man could have. Sure, Sam Mitchell should have probably come up with a counter play or three, but Kevin Garnett was absolutely all over Bosh during that final frame. It was sick. It was scary. It was fantastic.
And in the end, I'm more impressed with the Raptors in the loss. Even though they were up by 15. Even as they couldn't get their franchise stud a shot in the final quarter of a close game. This team now has something to build on. The goal, and EXACTLY what there is to overcome ... it's become clearer.
Toronto knew before this game that they had to overcome Boston in order to take that next step. Now they know how. That doesn't mean the Raptors will be able to do it, or that the team is any closer than it was before Monday's loss. But at least the blueprint is there. That's significant.
Indiana's concentration was a bit off during the first quarter of this one -- how else do you explain a team like the Thunder scoring 34 points in 12 minutes? -- but the Pacers rallied long enough to retain and hold the lead long enough for the win. This hasn't exactly been Indiana's strong suit this season, so that was encouraging to watch, against any competition.
It really did come down to concentration. The Pacers were always a step behind as Oklahoma City made the extra dribble which led to the extra pass which seemed to lead to the easy lay-in or earned trip to the free throw line. Really, though, it started on offense. The Pacers would miss a runner in the lane, or a reverse, or a close attempt at a finish off an interior pass; and it would eventually lead to an advantage on the other end.
This couldn't go on forever, as Oklahoma City's shooting percentage started to drop even as Kevin Durant (37 points on 27 shots with -- yay -- eight rebounds) kept the hot touch from the outside. The Pacers got a little spark from local guy Josh McRoberts, who started the second half (and, somehow, got "Player of the Game" nods from Fox Sports Indiana after notching all of two points, one rebound, one block, and one assist); and T.J. Ford brought it home with 22 points, six rebounds, and nine assists more than Josh McRoberts had.
They did tie in blocks.
Something about this game just doesn't sit right with me. It wasn't a bad matchup, but you get the feeling that the Magic and Trail Blazers (at their peak) won't look anything like they did on Monday night.
I've felt that Orlando's best play will come this spring, but even throwing that lark aside, you know Rashard Lewis isn't going to play like this (six points, three turnovers in almost 40 minutes) more than twice in a hundred games, and Portland won't look like this once they get Rudy Fernandez's sea legs going, Nicholas Batum on the bench (the rookie was lit up by Hedo Turkoglu, and Hedo ended up finishing with 35 points), and Greg Oden back and in the rotation.
J.J. Redick didn't play for the third time in four games, and his lone appearance in that stretch was a three-minute run in garbage time against the Wizards the other night.
Apologies for sounding like a broken record regarding Vince Carter, but you have to understand, I don't feel the way I do about him because he takes too long to get up after getting knocked down, or because he was present for his graduation in 2001, or because he wanted off of the Raptors in 2004.
I'd take a while to shake off those injuries, I'd show up for that ceremony, and I'd want off a team that Rob Babcock was leading. So understand that it comes from something else. Mainly, the way this guy played in the clutch in 1999-00.
And the way he's played since.
Vince may have put up seven points with an assist in the fourth quarter on Monday night, but he just seemed to disappear when things counted, and mainly in the last five minutes. Two of those points came in the final seconds as the Heat (up three points) were allowing two-point attempts if it meant New Jersey wouldn't be shooting threes. And VC turned the ball over three times in a nine minute run.
On the other end, Dwyane Wade? 19 points, an assist, two steals, no turnovers. And, sorry for making this comparison (this was not spurred on by Carter's presence), a rather Jordan-esque fallaway 16-footer to more or less clinch it for Miami.
Other than that, continued props to the Nets for really going at it. I may question Lawrence Frank's minutes allotment sometimes, but the man can coach rings around just about anyone out there. Yi Jianlian? 24 and 10, with four assists! Honestly, that last part is the biggest stretch for this smooth scorer. The Nets might be losing games, but whether you're a fan of this team or just of teams turning it around, you have to be loving the way New Jersey is flowing these days.
I wish I'd mentioned this earlier so as not to seem like I'm reacting to his most recent performance, but man, O. J. Mayo is the bidness.
There's something about him, and this isn't some sly joke about the guy's issues at USC, that seems so damn professional. This isn't some kid chucking up 25-footers for a team that is desperate for scoring help. This is a guy that sees the open 25-footer, passes on it, wonders about the open 21-footer, passes on it, keeps the dribble low, works into the 16-footer, and nails it. The form is perfect, the arc is there (something that can't be said for even some of today's top scoring wing talents), and the results have been shockingly good thus far.
I mean, we knew this guy was talented ... but he should be a sophomore in college right now. But a lot of rookies "should be a sophomore in college right now." And the way he squares his shoulders and the efficiency of his movements while clearing for the shot ... it looks like Mayo has been around for a while. And he hasn't. Ridiculous.
Outside of Mayo's 33 points, five assists, three steals, and only two turnovers (amazing for Kobe or Dirk; much less a rookie) in 44 minutes; this was a fantastic game. Incredibly enjoyable, though I regret missing most of the first half while flipping through the four other games. Memphis really gave Phoenix all it could handle, but the Suns impressed just as much with their willingness to play the youngsters in times of storm and stress, while still pulling out the win.
One unfortunate issue? I like Quinton Ross, a lot, but he should not have been on the court during Memphis' deciding offensive possession. Or the one before that. Defense/offense substitutions, Coach Iavaroni.
Otherwise, fine job this year, sir.