Raptors drop the ball

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

No one ever said Vince Carter couldn't play. The question sometimes was why he wouldn't play, or what was stopping him from playing, or why the Raptors couldn't find anyone to play with him.

Regardless, Carter sure played last night, donning his dark blue New Jersey Nets jersey with pride as he darted through the fog of heavy booing at the Air Canada Centre. His 17-point performance in the third quarter alone reminded everyone in Toronto why he's such an enigmatic figure, so frustrating, yet so gifted.

Carter scored only seven points in the fourth quarter and took only seven free-throws all night. But in the end, Raptors fans were denied their pound of flesh.

Carter and the Nets won 101-90. Carter scored a game-high 39 points. And Raptors fans were left to glare at their own team's bench, wondering why no one could step up big on this biggest of nights.

GREAT EVENING

Actually, that isn't quite fair. Rookie Pape Sow had a great evening. No, we're serious. His no-nonsense, hard-working effort, which produced nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and six rebounds in 22 minutes, provided the one small gleam of hope for the Raptors' future.

But other than Sow, it was a shallow pool.

Jalen Rose, who had stepped up so magnificently in the first meeting between these two clubs after Carter was traded from the Raptors to the Nets, couldn't repeat that memorable, magical performance.

Chris Bosh seemed to alternate between being a step slow and looking downright exhausted. He scored 18 points, but collected a pedestrian five rebounds.

Morris Peterson was far more effective in the first half than in the second half.

Rafer Alston continued to fire up questionable shot after questionable shot.

Matt Bonner's play suggested yet again that the league has figured him out.

And Rafael Araujo didn't look any more ready to contribute than he did on the first night of the season.

It's true that the difference between winning and losing often is subtle in the NBA. For example, the Raptors missed 10 free throws last night. Ten!

But the Raptors showed all their warts, with unforced turnovers, bad defence, non-existent ball movement and an unhealthy focus on the referees.

This used to be Carter's team. Some day it may be Bosh's team. But whose team is it now?

How would life be different today had the Raptors hired Julius (Dr. J) Erving to do some job, any job, in the organization last spring? Carter had championed Dr. J as a candidate for general manager, but even if the Raptors didn't want to give him that title, sources said he would have been happy to take another title for as little as $700,000 US per year -- a lot by normal standards, but a mere pittance by NBA standards.

Such a move at least might have bought Vince's silence for a year, and if the Raptors still wanted to explore trade possibilities, they could have done so without the pressure of Carter's public trade demand.

Fittingly, Carter showed up at the Air Canada Centre last night wearing a Dr. J retro jersey. It wasn't coincidence, it was cheekiness.

The fact Michelle Carter, Vince's mom, decided to attend the game was gutsy, if not a little reckless. Images immediately came to mind of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau ducking bottles thrown by Quebec separatists but defiantly refusing to leave his seat during the St-Jean Baptiste Day parade in Montreal several decades ago.

NO DRAMATICS

Nothing so dramatic happened last night, but Michelle was visibly dour through the first half, as the Nets fell behind by as many as 16 points.

Her mood improved greatly in the second half, and why not?

The last chant of the night from the Toronto crowd was not "Carter sucks." Rather, it was, "Let's go Blue Jays." That's telling, isn't it?

The post-Carter Raptors had a chance to bond with their tortured faithful last night.

And the Raptors failed, as they have in so many other ways, in so many other seasons, over and over again.


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