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The in-Vince-able ones again?
by Dean Serravalle / April 26, 2002

Despite what progress had been made towards the end of the regular season, how the Raptors embraced the challenge of winning without their marquee player and the acceptance of teamwork as a win or die attitude, there won't probably be a comeback. And here are some reasons that might argue the contrary.

The Raptors improved their shooting percentage from 29.9% to 47.5% in Game 2. A revamped line-up featuring Chris Childs as the emotional leader presented some problems for the Pistons, or as Detroit coach Rick Carlisle admitted, "The changes set us back on our heels." More importantly, an inside attack in the trenches of the paint, led by Antonio Davis, pioneered by Hakeem Olajuwon and inspired by Keon Clark set rippled defensive stalwarts like Ben Wallace on his heels. Not to mention, the improved play of Morris Peterson coupled with the consistent effort of Alvin Williams. Factor in a running start in Toronto and it sounds like a recipe for a comeback, except for one key ingredient - the Finisher.

Unlike football, playoff basketball in the NBA is not won in the trenches. What made the difference in Game 2 was not the fact that the Raptors outrebounded the Pistons 50-33, or that, once again, the Raptors regrouped and
exploited the best out of everyone on the court. On paper, the stats were impressive, such as the team hitting 40% of its three-pointers. The emotion, energy, coach's adjustments and work ethic were there. Yet, the Raptors faltered in the end. And while Jerry Stackhouse single handily reeked havoc on the Raptors, Vince was nowhere to be seen in the building - literally. Not having attended the game, Vince's absence both on and off the court revealed itself in a lack of real, finishing, scoring presence.

Although criticized for his inability to play defense, lead vocally, or play with injury, and this from future and past NBA stars, this one aspect of the game, finishing, can't be denied Vince Carter. The potential to step onto
the court in the fourth quarter, with only two minutes left, having shot a measly 2-14 in three quarters, only to hit a fade-away three pointer to win the game is the hope the Raptors need in their line up to secure confidence in a second round advancement. Jerry Stackhouse, on the other side of the court, played poor defensively, but made key shots at key points in the game, amassing a game high 31 points. More obviously, it was Stackhouse's
presence on the floor as a threat to finish that dispelled Toronto, because finishing a game in the NBA is an art all to itself. It has become the determining factor of whether a team can go far in the playoffs, made historically evident by such examples as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. And the players know it.

So, do the Raptors have a chance to win game 3 in Toronto? Definitely. But this isn't the Chicago Bulls at the end of a season, or a depleted New Jersey Net squad wanting to rest its players for the playoffs. This is a hungry, scrappy Detroit Piston team that hasn't dented the playoffs since the Bad Boys Era, when it was spurred on by another famous finisher - Isiah Thomas, who ironically couldn't finish anything as a president of operations in Toronto.

Barring a rescue from their own Superman, who seems locked in the metaphorical phone booth of rehabilitation, the Raptors will suffer under the illusion that if they work hard enough they might pull off an upset in this series. And for a team once pegged to challenge the Lakers for the NBA Championship, this might be the only consolation for a season left unfinished.

Dean Serravalle is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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