Ten Thoughts following a Game 2 that could spell the end of the season for the most annoying PA announcer in America ...
1. Paul Pierce made his two free throws and Vince Carter missed his two free throws.
Is there really any other story?
I'm sure Vince Carter has starred in more national commercials than Paul Pierce. Carter has been voted into the All-Star Game seven times, four times as the overall leading vote-getter. Pierce has never once been voted into the All-Star Game. Carter was picked fifth in the 1998 draft with "the next Michael Jordan" hype. Pierce was selected five picks later in the same draft with "Why did he tumble down the board?" baggage. And for most of their 12 years in the league together I suspect a great many folks have thought that Carter was the better player.
Anyone think that way now?
Sometimes you just know. You knew that Pierce was going to make those free throws, right? There is nothing about that situation -- 34 seconds left, one-point game, a pretty good road crowd trying to get in his head -- that gives Pierce even a second of pause. Lives for it.
But Carter? Once he missed the missed the first, you and I knew he was going to miss the second. Why? He is just one of those players. We've seen it over the years. The pressure gets to him. There's a reason why Vince Carter has never made a conference finals until this season. Several reasons, actually. He has not been surrounded by All-Stars in his career, true. But was Pierce in 2002, when he carried the Celtics? Kenny Anderson was the third-best player on the team.
As telling as the two missed FTs were, I thought perhaps a worse moment for Carter came with 3:03 left in the game and the Magic up 90-89 with the ball. A real chance for Carter to step up and prove that he is a closer, the kind of player that can be the first scoring option for a title team. And with the Celtics in the penalty and the refs calling everything it seemed time to take it to the basket, maybe even an old-school Vince dunk was on the way.
Instead, we got Vince taking an awful "I don't want to deal with Garnett" fallaway from 15 feet out that wasn't even close. Garnett hit a 13-footer on the next possession and the Celtics never trailed again.
I thought the Pierce-Carter matchup would be the most compelling in the series. And it has been -- but not for the reasons I thought heading into Game 1. Total domination by No. 34. Pierce is shooting 14-of-22 for the first two games, averaging 25 points. Carter also has made 14 field goals, but he has shot the ball 33 times in the series. What has shocked me is how easily Pierce can handle Carter. He can post him up, take him off the dribble, or just shoot over him from 20 feet out. Whatever he wants to do, really. Must be nice after six games of LeBron.
And Vince has had his moments, but the bottom line is that he doesn't want to get his hands dirty. He's going to take jumper after jumper. If he makes them, swell. If he doesn't, what are you left with? His defense has been shaky at best, and in 66 minutes played in this series he has six rebounds and three assists (Pierce has 14 and 10.) As a Celtics fan, is there any scenario in which you'd trade Pierce for Carter? Of course not.
Forget Pierce, J.J. Redick was a significantly better player than Carter in a game that the Magic needed Carter to be great. If the Magic lose this series (and the Magic are going to lose this series), Carter's failure in Game 2 to be, well, Paul Pierce will be a career black mark.
2. On a night when I counted three plays from Rajon Rondo that would fall in the "Can anyone else in the league do that?" category (the follow-up of his own missed shot to draw a foul in the second quarter was something you never see from a point guard, the behind-the-back fake turned easy layup in the third quarter and the reverse in the fourth quarter) it was an open jumper that impressed me the most. No way, with 1:32 left in a one-point game, does Rondo take that shot even a year ago (two years ago he would have been on the bench.) But he made it, and so far it's the biggest shot of the series.
3. And Mark Jackson, no need to tell us that Rondo is "one of the five best point guards in the league." We've already been briefed. Truth is right now he's closer to No. 1 than No. 5 on that list.
4. And hey, the $55 million Rondo is set to make on his five-year deal? Double the dollar amount and you've got the total for Rashard Lewis' contract. Think the Magic would like a mulligan on that one? The cast of "Couples Retreat" can't believe how badly Lewis is mailing it in so far in the series. Lewis is 4-of-16 from the floor in the first two games, but hey, if "doing everything possible to avoid taking an offensive foul" was a stat he would lead all players in the series. I guess the lesson is: Never sign a guy that does nothing but shoot jump shots to a $110 million contract. And that is one to grow on.
5. Dwight Howard really did play well in Game 2. He and Redick are the only two Magic players that I think more of than I did before the series started (maybe Gortat also, now that I think of it.) I was rough on Howard after Game 1, but he showed some life in the post on Tuesday. Couple of nice jump hooks, though with Patrick Ewing as his Post Daddy you would think we would see the fallaway by now. Or at least Ewing's trademark "guaranteed win gone wrong." Maybe he's saving that for Game 3. Odd, though, that in 40 minutes Howard had no blocks and only eight rebounds. Plus five more missed free throws (though he did get to the line 17 times.) In the last two regular seasons combined Howard has missed 678 free throws. In his 13-year career Larry Bird missed a total of 511 free throws.
6. But Howard would have absolutely been kicked out of a regular-season game for that shot on Pierce. And the replay showed that he clearly wasn't making a play for the ball. Cheap shot, and this isn't exactly breaking new ground with Howard. The NBA could take a look at this, I guess, to me it was a pretty clear intent to injure a player. Nothing will come of it, almost impossible to prove Howard's motive. But give the Celtics credit for staying in character when the easy route would have been retaliation. And as we know that's almost always what leads to elbows and fights and suspensions.
(And it isn't really an NBA playoffs until Pierce gets hurt and basically reenacts Giovanni Ribisi's death scene from "Saving Private Ryan", is it?)
7. I'm still waiting for the "Best of the Magic players ignoring Stan Van Gundy during timeouts and pregame speeches" on YouTube.
8. Of course, maybe if Redick has listened to Stan he would not have wasted those four seconds before calling a timeout. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I am, without argument, one of the five biggest Duke haters on the planet. Not much beats a Coach K player having an epic mental meltdown. Just sweet. On a level of pure enjoyment it falls well short of watching a Duke player cry after an NCAA flameout (Redick bawling after losing to LSU in 2006 was a personal favorite and had "keep until I delete" honors on my TiVo for a year or so) but that's a tough standard.
(And I have to think, after the Redick timeout, that if the ball was inbounded somewhere around the 3-point line the Celtics were going to foul in that spot, right? But once the ball was thrown to Nelson 45 feet or so from the hoop the "should they foul or not?" debate was gone. Take your chances with an off-balance heave and move on.)
9. With about two minutes left in the game tonight ESPN showed Glen Davis and Ray Allen walking out of the huddle after a timeout. And I swear Ray Allen -- listed as 6-foot-5 -- looked to be two inches taller than the Artist Never Known as Large Infant.
So Davis shouldn't be able to defend Dwight Howard in big spots in a playoff game. He's not supposed to be playing 28 minutes in Game 2 of the conference finals. But there he is, taking two charges, grabbing six rebounds, scoring off screen-and-rolls with Rondo. And how about the dunk in the fourth quarter? Perfect role player for this team and a guy that just be a 15-8 kind of player when the Big Three* are gone in a couple of years.
9A. The NBA draft lottery was Tuesday night, and it turned out to be a rough one for the Nets. They wanted either the first or second pick, looks like John Wall and Evan Turner are the only sure things. Not getting one of those guys is a disaster that'll set the franchise back half a decade, at least. They needed this lottery to break their way in the worst way and it didn't happen.
Somehow, though, I don't think that on May 18, 2013, we will be watching the Nets, NBA champions just two years earlier, take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Imagine telling a Celtics fan 10 minutes after losing out on Durant and Oden what the next three years were going to look like? He wouldn't have known what language you were speaking. Maybe the most improbable forming of a team in NBA (or even sports) history. Just remember to keep your head down and give thanks to Kevin McHale every once in a while.
10. Game 3? Celtics 98, Magic 90.