Vince seizes opportunity

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

It is occasionally difficult to trust Vince Carter's sincerity, but not this time.

He felt lousy.

Oh, not about that last-second three-ball from somewhere near Yonge and Bloor that buried the knife in the Raptors' hearts. Or for scoring the last 12 points of the game for New Jersey. Or for those 24 fourth-quarter points he scored to keep it from becoming a Toronto blowout. Or for snapping Toronto's five-game winning streak.

But the man once known as Air Canada, whose name is now mud in these parts, was genuinely sorry for getting his good friend, former teammate and current shadow, Mo Peterson, kicked out of yesterday's thriller at the ACC.

It was late in the second quarter of the best basketball game played in this city in the past five years. The bowl of the ACC was a cauldron of intensity, from the players to the fans to the coaches to the officials. With the much-despised Carter in town -- his Nets on a nine-game win streak against the Raps and their shocking five-gamer, playing in front of the largest and loudest crowd of the season -- it was a perfect storm of emotion.

With 24 seconds left in the half, Peterson thought he had been fouled and he told referee Steve Javie so. Big mistake. Javie, one of the NBA's hanging judges, had just given Toronto's Mike James a technical a few seconds earlier and was in no mood to take any guff from Peterson.

After Carter missed the technical foul shot, he wandered back downcourt and engaged Peterson in conversation, giving him a friendly face-wash. In return, Peterson flicked out his hand and grazed Carter on the cheek.

Then all hell broke loose.

Javie missed the Carter jab and looked up just in time to misinterpret Peterson's playful slap to Carter's face. Already on a hair-trigger, he ejected Peterson from the contest. Peterson lost his cool, ranted and raved, then ripped off his jersey and threw it into the courtside seats. He tried to plead his case to Javie but the ref wasn't listening. Carter even tried to intercede with Javie, explaining that it was just two old friends having each other on. No dice.

What hurt the Raptors most was the fact that Peterson was assigned to Carter and was doing an excellent job. To that point, Carter had only 12 points. In the Nets' win streak, he has been averaging about 33 a game.

With Peterson out of the ball game, Carter went off for 30 second-half points, including the amazing run in the fourth quarter when he scored 24 of New Jersey's 29 points, guarded for the most part by James, six inches shorter than Peterson.

When asked if he would have hit those numbers if Peterson had been around, Carter just shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. "I was just trying to take advantage of what was there. Maybe so, maybe not. I guess that's the best way I can answer that."

Which was his way of saying "Not a chance."

Toronto led by eight points with two minutes left in the game and by six with a minute remaining, but Carter wouldn't let it go. He willed his team to victory and, no matter what you think of the despicable way he forced his way out of Toronto last year, you have to marvel at what he can do on a basketball court when he is motivated.

In the dying seconds, Toronto leading by two points, the ball came to Carter probably five feet beyond the three-point line, with Jose Calderon flying at him. He launched the long three and there was no doubt from the time it left his hand.

"Just another shot, another game," Carter deadpanned. Then he laughed and actually admitted this game and this shot had been elevated to No. 1 on his own personal list of court heroics.

"The atmosphere, the emotion, the hostility in the arena ... it was a fun game to play in," he said. "It felt like Game 7 of the playoffs."

Not really. In Game 7 of the playoffs, Carter's shot clangs off the back iron. But we digress ...

Carter's biggest concern afterward was how this bizarre, emotional afternoon in his old stomping grounds will affect his friendship with Peterson.

"He might not want to talk to me right now, but I'm gonna try to reach out to him," said Carter. "I hope he understands."

As for the Raptors themselves, perhaps the most important aspect of yesterday's game will be how they react tonight in Chicago. They had a lot invested in yesterday's game. How much they have left will say much about their growth as a team.


Videos

Photos