Saturday, December 3, 2011

These Are The Moments... The Toronto Raptors

On Tuesday night, podcast pioneers and renowned Toronto Raptors fans, The Basketball Jones made it to New York City for the latest stop on their now month-old No Season Required tour. In addition to attracting an excellent crowd of hoops junkies and putting on a great show, The Jones’ visit got me thinking about Raptors highlights. It's time to give this series some Nothern exposure.

Fans of the Toronto Raptors have a fascinating relationship with the spectacular. With the possible exception of their counterparts from Cleveland, no NBA fan base has been privy to more jawdropping, out-of-your-seat “holy shit!” moments from which they’d now like to distance themselves.

Long before LeBron’s public flogging of Cleveland, Vince Carter, in his own special way, was doing a number on Raptor fans. If “The Decision” was a bomb that rocked Northeast Ohio, Vince was a slow-burning chemical fire. From an untimely commitment to educational milestones in 2001, to "Wince" Carter's frustratingly long spells in street clothes, to the adoption of a step-back, fadeaway 3-pointer (lest the greatest dunker of all time be known as such), to the admitted tanking of the 2004-05 season in a (successful) attempt to orchestrate a pennies-on-the-dollar move south of the border, Vince did an incredible job of bastardizing as spectacular a body of work as has ever been seen in the NBA. By the time he’d closed the book on his days at the Air Canada Centre, it’s fairly safe to say that neither side was particularly interested in reliving the era in which he assembled his staggering dunk catalogue.

Thing is, in spite of Vince’s douchebaggery and the broken hearts left in his wake in Toronto, no comprehensive review of the greatest highlights in NBA history, let alone Raptors history, is possible without a dusting of…

Vince Carter's picture-perfect oop v. Clippers

As you read these articles you’ll notice that I do not try to rank history’s greatest plays against one another. Rather than constructing some subjectively objective method for comparison, we are better off judging each spectacular merit on its own merit. Simply put, a play can only be as great as it can be.

Which brings us to Staples Center at the height of Vinsanity. I’m sure the nitpickiest of judges will find flaw somewhere in this utterly gorgeous Vince Carter oop. Just don’t ask me to do it. The perfect dunker, reeling in a perfectly imperfect (just far enough away to make fully extend) lob at the pinnacle of his jump… and just hanging there, taking a moment to look right at the rim because, well, that’s just where his eyes were, before immaculately tomahawking the ball through.

Seriously, this thing is a masterpiece.

Finally, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find Ralph Lawler scolding the home fans for cheering for a visiting star particularly amusing.

VC destroys Dikembe Mutombo

Trying not to go too Vince-heavy, but c’mon!

It’s one thing to scale Mount Mutombo, it’s another to plant a flag and colonize.

Love that Vince took it right at Deke, love the second leg of his ascent, the unreal elevation, the clean flush and the glare. This is just plain awesome.

Mo-Pete's incredible buzzer-beater in Washington

As much as this has a vibe of utter chaos to it, it's only relevant because of a phenomenal individual effort.

The catch alone, essentially a fair catch with a defender nearby, is a pretty impressive feat of concentration. But to then come down cleanly, find a sightline to the bucket and, with about a second and a half left on the clock, elevate and slightly double-clutch before burying a game-tying 35-footer is utterly ridiculous.

Really can’t say enough about Mo-Pete’s work here.

With that said, there is another element of these few seconds I'd like to explore. If, for one brief moment, you’d like irrefutable proof that you could “earn” an NBA check for a day, take a gander at Michael Ruffin’s work here. Seriously, what the hell is he doing? Up three, three seconds left, loose ball bounces to you and you… attempt to sky-hook it downcourt?

Yeah, it’s pretty much totally unfair to blame Ruffin for the way those final couple of ticks played out, but you know what doesn’t happen if you just fall on the damn ball there?

Onions, baby. Onions.

Tracy McGrady "from the free throw line" 

Apologies for poor video quality, but this is too great to ignore.

Simply put, multiple dunk contests have been won exactly like this. Any time Michael Jordan or Dr. J needed a big number, this baby would get dialed up, sometimes multiple times in the same contest (as an aside, that move always really pissed me off). After taking time to think things over and count steps, they’d take flight, from a about step inside the foul line, and calmly collect their 48+ points.

That’s exactly what a young Tracy McGrady did here. Well, sort of. He did do exactly that, only without the benefit of time or the comfort of a mulligan in his back pocket, and with traveling rules in effect and defenders on the floor.

Vince Carter hits 9 threes, goes for 50 in Game 3 v. Philly in 2001

One of the most misleading performances in NBA history.

Five days after wrestling away home court advantage from the Sixers and two after Allen Iverson dropped 54 to even the series, Vince Carter walked in to his house for his franchise’s first-ever conference semifinal home game and proceeded to hit his first 8 3-pointers (a playoff record) en route to 50 and a 24-point romp that gave the Raps a 2-1 series lead.

Just six seasons in, a playoff series win already under their belts, in the driver’s seat, two wins from the conference finals, with a legit superstar in tow, the Raptors would own the Eastern Conference for the next decade. Alas…

And another one down! As always, I want to hear from you. Let me know what you think of my choices, and chime in with your own. I love your feedback.

By the way, thanks to TBJ’s Tas Melas for lending a hand when I was brainstorming for this piece.

No comments: