It wasn't hard to lose count how many times either Mike Breen or Mark Jackson intoned how Vince Carter was brought to Orlando for games just like last night's, a conference final. A big game; the guy to get them over the top.
It's standard TV hyperbole: The production people have a meeting; identify some themes and then hammer away at them to create the storyline to entertain the guy at home who is just now getting around to the idea that the playoffs are on and wow! Vince Carter plays for Orlando now!
I get that. If the sports business had to rely on only the eyeballs of people who followed the in's and outs of the league exclusively, they'd probably go out of business. You need those people who used to be fans, or who would be fans if they had the time. It roughly approximates how I follow baseball: I like the game; it's cool to learn about and every time I go to a game I'm blown away at how good they are. You can watch two guys long-tossing for 10 minutes and never see them have to move their glove more than a foot or two; it's remarkable.
But don't ask me who the closer is for the Cincinnati Reds, or what's going on in the American League West. I just don't have the time. But come the World Series I'll be perfectly happy to be told that C.C Sabathia was brought to the Yankees for moments like this.
Anyway. The only problem is that Vince blew his moment, didn't he? If you've followed his entire career, it wasn't a terrible shock: He's a solid free throw shooter and all and he's won his share of games, but that was his first chance to win an Eastern Conference Finals game and he didn't quite get it done.
The contrast with Paul Pierce was perfect. They're from the same draft class. I remember sitting in the Raptors offices and doing a story on him in advance of the draft in 1998. Pierce eventually fell to 10th in one of those draft-day surprises that was never properly explained. The Raptors got Vince, which seemed like a good thing at the time. If I'm not mistaken Pierce was kind trending ahead of Carter in the early going until he injured his ankle badly in his second season and Carter went insane; winning games with dunks at the buzzer etc.
They've both had amazing careers by any reasonable measure, but Pierce long ago passed Carter in terms of meaningful accomplishment, and he did it in a fashion that Carter has never quite mastered.
His incredible talent, in my mind, has always kind of hurt Carter from developing a really solid floor game: If your goal is to beat guys for spectacular dunks - and you actually can achieve it with some regularity - why master the art of getting a shoulder just past your guy, getting low for leverage and then using the contact to your advantage? Pierce never had Carter's leaping ability, but he's always had a grimy, old man's game, which is why it's aged pretty well; better than Carter's. Pierce has averaged 7.4 FTA's for his career per 36 minutes. He's been down in the low six range the past three years but before that he routinely was in the mid-to-high eights.
Carter has averaged 5.7 FTA's per 36 for his career and only once averaged more than seven. He got to the free throw line because he had the ball a lot, I always thought, not because he was really good at making people foul him. Pierce is an expert.
Which is maybe why Carter looked kind of uncomfortable bricking his pair at the line with the Magic's season very much at stake, and Pierce looked at home, making his two, putting the Magic away, possibly for good.
The Magic brought in Carter just for games like last night's. The problem is Carter never played in one like that before.
The beauty of the off-season is that even when nothing happens, it makes things happen!
So the Raptors ended up with the 13th pick, which is just where they were supposed to pick, but all sorts of options jump out because New Jersey didn't get No.1 and Washington did, while 76ers got No.2 and thus might loosen their grip on Andre Iguodala.