Carter puts on vintage performance
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
Vince Carter stood as the music blared, bobbing, weaving, shadow boxing with his fists.
He didn't just look like he was ready to start another season -- he looked like he was ready to fight Muhammad Ali.
And then the lights went dark at the Air Canada Centre, before Carter pounded on his chest, just above his heart, intentionally above his heart, before his sixth opening night as a Toronto Raptor began.
Before the best Raptors news of all. Better than a win against the defending Eastern champion, New Jersey Nets. Early season flash: Vince Carter is back.
He has bobbed and weaved before, thrown his punches at air and pounded his fists. Being pumped always has been part of his M.O. But this wasn't just pumped.
This was performance. This was turning back the clock and not gaining sleep.
This was Vince Carter on opening night, taking a lethargic team and grabbing them and carrying them and winning for them.
It has been a long time coming. If this is the beginning, it could be the beginning of a Raptors renaissance of sorts -- although making the playoffs would represent a renaissance for this team.
This season, like each of the past five seasons, begins and ends and evolves around Carter. Everyone else is somewhat moot -- the new coach, the new players, the apparent new style of play that didn't look all that new at times last night.
It is about Carter being the man. Carter being the star. Carter removing the doubts.
Carter being the top-five player that coach Kevin O'Neill publicly believes him to be. Even if you can count to five a hundred times and still not come up with his name.
But six or seven or eight ain't bad. And if this is what Carter is and will become -- then there isn't just reason for Raptor optimism, but reason to believe.
And in a league where stars are everything, he represents the only possibility here, If he plays the part of franchise player, the franchise has a chance. If he doesn't, then what?
Last night, Carter came off the bench from a brief fourth-quarter rest, with the game tied 73-73. By then he already had scored 30 points.
But when it mattered, when it really mattered, he made nine of the next 13 points. He turned a loss into a win.
And only twice frightening the crowd with a moment of doubt. It is forever that way with Carter. You hold your breath because you really don't have any choice.
He goes to the basket in the first half and comes away wincing, rubbing his arm, his shoulder, his elbow. And you wince.
At the end of the third quarter, he crashed to the court and came up holding his ear. There are always those moments with Carter.
When you don't know. When you aren't certain. When you think he might be hurt again.
And then he played on. That's what this season is all about. Finding out about Carter. Defining and re-defining himself. Quieting the legion of critics. Playing like the star he believes himself to be and hasn't always been.
Thirty-nine points on opening night against the best team in the East. He couldn't have shouted any louder than that.
The music that blared at the beginning wasn't that apparent. And at one of the late timeouts, with the Raptors clinging to a lead, Carter spent much of the minute on the sidelines waving his arms again, playing to the crowd. The doubting public.
Last year, he hurt his left knee and his right knee and his ankle and his reputation. All have been repaired except his reputation.
More nights like last night and that will change too.