Vince Carter’s game last night will be remembered for his missed free throws (honestly, did anyone have confidence those were going in?), but it was everything else he did that encapsulated his sorry-ass, underacheiving career.
Carter took bad shots, got murdered defensively, and the offense generally ran best when he was sitting on the bench. The Magic’s early comeback — after Vince got into foul trouble while his early-game defense did nothing but encourage Paul Pierce to take over the game — all happened with Vince on the bench. When J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes were together, everything just seemed to flow more easily. Part of it is probably Vince’s shot selection. I remember three really bad ones off the top of my head — two off-balance runners that drew nothing but backboard, and a three-pointer from the corner that he actually made. It was a quick-release, contested, fadeaway three with 12 seconds left on the shot clock.
Just look at this quote from Rashard Lewis, after the game. “Everybody’s trying to be the hero,” Lewis said. “Everybody’s trying to make the tough play. Hey, I wanted to do the same thing, but I just couldn’t get my hands on the ball.”
I just couldn’t get my hands on the ball. Lewis didn’t say that too much last year, when Hedo Turkoglu was running the show. He never seemed to lack touches when Hedo was around. And good touches too, touches he could do something with. Lewis is still the Magic’s biggest mismatch against the Celtics. As much as it looks like Kevin Garnett’s completely dominated him, Lewis can go by him almost at will. For awhile yesterday, Glen Davis defended Lewis. Even then, Lewis hardly got touches. Just to let you know, Rashard could get by Davis in his sleep. But he only got one touch in a good situation. The result? A layup that followed one of the easiest drives to the hoop of Lewis’s career. Believe me, Rashard’s still a mismatch.
He just doesn’t get the same opportunities as last season, because the Magic’s offense doesn’t have the same ball movement, the same fluidity it did when Hedo was around. Hedo was a hell of a playmaker, but more importantly he was an intelligent basketball player. He knew when to create his own shot, when to create for others, or when to simply swing the basketball around the perimeter. He was someone who always seemed fun to play with.
Carter has been called a lot of things in his career, but fun to play with has never been one of them. He’s still a wonderful talent, but he almost never fails to leave me shaking my head in disgust. He takes bad shots, holds the ball for too long, and doesn’t know when to make the basketball play. He attacks when he should swing the ball, and swings when he should attack. He takes shots after a jab step from 26 feet out, but doesn’t relocate off the ball to get open looks. Carter lacks the intelligence, or whatever else it is, that would allow him to consistently make plays that benefit his team. He’s still a very good player, a game-changing player, but has never once tricked anyone into thinking that he’s reached the best of his abilities.
When he choked missed those free throws last night, I wasn’t even a bit surprised. Why would we ever expect those free throws to go in, after Carter has taught us time after time that he gets smaller as the moment gets larger? In between free throws, there was a cut to Carter’s face. He looked equal parts confused and scared. There didn’t seem to be a hint of confidence on his face. Really, not a hint. He almost looked like he was constipated, rather than an NBA star ready to make two big free throws to help his team steal a pivotal game. In a way, his whole career boils down to that one face. When it comes to big moments, Carter is either scared or confused. He doesn’t know what to do, won’t work for an easy shot, and often fails to make the right play. Sometimes – often, even — Carter has good games, but even when he does he leaves his fans wanting more (he does have SOME fans, right?). And in big moments, he mostly leaves those fans with the same exact face he wore while he was on the foul line.
“We’re not taking good enough shots,” said Stan Van Gundy. I’ve got a news flash for you guys: It wasn’t Dwight Howard taking bad shots.
But we don’t rip into Vince Carter because he occasionally takes bad shots, or because he sometimes misses big ones. We rip into him because he could have been really, really special.