Touches of vintage Vince

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:16 PM ET

Vince Carter had to leave his debut game with the New Jersey Nets because of a leg injury. I know. I know. The line Vince Carter has leg injury belongs in your league of wholly not surprising sentences, right beside Figure skater falls, cries but this is different.

Last night in Auburn Hills, Mich., against the Detroit Pistons, Vince Carter played a little fast and loose with his health and his future.

Maybe, if you're the New Jersey Nets, it wasn't such a bad thing. Maybe, if you're the Raptors, you wonder why you didn't get more of that willingness to stick out the hard times.

"Just a cramp, nothing serious," Carter said after the game his Nets lost 100-90 in overtime.

Carter cited dehydration as the culprit and said he expected to play tonight in Chicago against the Bulls.

Carter finished regulation time with 23 points on eight of 18 shooting. He shot the ball only twice in the fourth quarter and once in overtime.

After playing 42 minutes, the leg gave out early in the five-minute overtime.

Carter injured his leg early in the fourth quarter, but stuck it out until he couldn't any more.

Nets coach Lawrence Frank dropped the ball.

Carter was in pain when he came into a timeout shortly after hurting himself on a sequence that saw him grab his hamstring before he was smashed on to the floor.

Benched for long stretches as a Raptor by coach Sam Mitchell, Carter wasn't anywhere near in game shape.

"We were a little short of bodies (last night) and he was doing a lot of good things," Frank said. "Vince was in a good rhythm. There were no conditions, unlike a guy like Jason (Kidd) coming back from surgery, about how much Vince played."

No, but maybe a little common sense would have helped.

The Nets, more than anyone save for the Raptors, know the knock on Carter. He won't play hurt. He's in it for the stats. He's not a winner.

Well, he played hurt last night. He combined with Kidd and Richard Jefferson for a wickedly balanced attack. If he is sound, this could work out magically for the Nets. If.

Playing for the first time since he hurt his left Achilles tendon on Dec. 8, Carter came into the game four minutes in and delivered an airball on his first official shot. It was the only the third time in 403 games Carter did not start.

The Pistons' Tayshaun Prince abused him for an easy basket in the low post, then Carter's turnover led to an easy basket.

I don't know if Vince Carter is still a great player but he was unfazed by the start.

Carter calmly hit a three-pointer, shook off another airball, converted a nimble left- hand finger roll and had a shot blocked with no small measure of impunity by Ben Wallace. No matter. He kept coming back.

In the second quarter, Carter canned a difficult shot from 14 feet then missed an alley-oop dunk attempt from Kidd he probably had no business even reaching. An almost identical attempt a few minutes later rimmed out as well.

Unfazed, Carter floated another 14-footer for his 11th point of the first half and then canned another three-pointer a few seconds later.

There was enough good on the evening to overshadow the bad, assuming of course, the bad doesn't turn into another series of injuries.

The good thing was Carter, rejuvenated after seven seasons in Toronto, wanted in no matter what.

It was all, he said, a bit of a relief.

"I'm glad," he said, "to be a player again."

Now, will his body allow him to remain one?


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