Raptors minus Vince a plus

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

It was hard to grasp what aspect of the come-from-behind win by the Raptors over the San Antonio Spurs yesterday was more shocking.

Was it the fact that the struggling Raptors, losers of their previous five games, came back from 20 points down against one of the NBA's powerhouse units? Or was it the fact they did it with Vince Carter playing his role as the league's most expensive cheerleader?

Tough choice. Given Carter's recent struggles and coach Sam Mitchell's unwillingness to bow and scrape before his tarnished star, maybe Vince's status as a spectator isn't that much of a surprise.

But the combination of the two elements only adds more fuel to the speculation about Carter's future in Toronto.

With Carter in the lineup for 24 of the game's first 34 minutes, the Raptors were going nowhere, which is becoming par for the course with this player and this team. Carter had accounted for four points on a weak 2-for-9 shooting performance. He was almost invisible, booed every time he touched the ball, which wasn't often.

Mitchell grounded Air Canada with 1:51 remaining in the third quarter and the Spurs up by 16 points, 75-59, replacing Carter with Jalen Rose. A minute later, San Antonio had extended its advantage to 20 and, in the words of guard Rafer Alston, "it looked like they were going to blow us out by 30."

"They were just rolling on us," Mitchell said.

Rose was clearly labouring with a suspected charley horse, having taken a hip check from Manu Ginoboli early in the game and he departed for good after three periods.

"Jalen kept trying to play through it and you could see when we tried to play zone and put J at the top, he just couldn't move," Mitchell said. "When we got down 20, it just didn't make sense to have him on the court."

Chris Bosh, Milt Palacio, Alston, Morris Peterson and Lamond Murray played the final 12 minutes and outscored the Spurs 33-9.

"I'm not benching guys but when you put a group on the court and those guys brought us back into the game ...," Mitchell said.

"When I played and we'd get down 20 and my coach put me in and we'd come back to make a run at it, I would get disappointed when the coach took us out. I felt like we had earned the right to win it or lose it.

"They earned the right to stay on the court (yesterday). It never entered my mind to take them out."

Mitchell was asked if it's not a bad sign that the go-to star, Carter, was on the bench at a time when you would expect him to be at the centre of things.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know. All I know is that we went to the bench and those guys came through."

Obliquely, Mitchell tried to appeal to his team's sense of loyalty to each other. Mostly he was appealing to Carter and Rose.

"If they just let go of whatever goals they have individually and just focus on each other and the team, we'll be able to surprise a lot of people," he said.

"In life we all want this opportunity. What you have to do on a team is understand that some nights it's gonna be your teammate's night. In the five wins we've had, it has been a different guy every time. And that's a good thing.

"And I still believe that Jalen and Vince are going to get it going."

Carter, at the centre of trade rumours these past few days, was calm, cool and collected afterward, saying all the right things.

"I'm not worried," he said.

"I wasn't playing well and he made the call to put Lamond and Mo and that group in and it worked. It worked, so why should I be mad?0

"If I'm mad about something it's not making shots, shots that I would normally make. But I'm all right. That happens. In my mind, I believe I'll hit those shots the next time.

SLUMP

"When you're in a slump you have to shoot your way out of it."

There is no sense that Carter is dogging it or that he's trying somehow to hasten his exit from Toronto. Perhaps more concerning is the thought that this is, in fact, the best he can do. Maybe he's no longer capable of the dynamic performances that made him one of the league's top stars, however briefly.

If that's true, he's going to get a good view of a lot of fourth quarter action from the end of the bench.


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