NBA / May 21, 2010 / 2:30 pm

Vince Carter has to play the game of his life in Game 3

Call me an apologist, an optimist, a dick-rider, whatever. But I have to disagree with Dime’s Daniel Marks: I think Vince Carter can shake his reputation as a crunch-time choker and overall soft player.

All he has to do is play the game of his life tomorrow.

With the Orlando Magic facing a death-certificate deficit should they lose Game 3 in Boston (8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN), this is a must-win for the team, and for Vince, a must-dominate. Whether he recaptures what he had that February 2010 night against New Orleans where he dropped 48 points on 70 percent shooting (19-of-27) mostly jumpers, or duplicates what he did in November ’08 in Toronto, shredding them for 39 points, 9 boards, 6 dimes, the game-tying three to force overtime, and the buzzer-beating dunk in OT to win it, Vince needs to perform the way he’s always been capable of performing on the big stage.

Can he do it? The fact that, even as a huge Carter fan, I can’t definitively answer that question tells you a lot about his career. I’m not dumb enough to ever claim Vince isn’t clutch, but 12 years into his pro career at 33 years old, he’s never been one of those guys who can just pull 40 out of his pocket whenever he feels like it. As talented as he is, Vince is a rhythm player, not a stubborn leader. If his jumper isn’t falling or it just doesn’t seem like his night, he’s not going to force greatness like Jordan or Kobe; he’ll settle into just playing his position and salvaging an “OK” game. Which is commendable in a way, because not everybody on the basketball court should be trying to be the hero all the time.

But in this case, the Magic need Vince to force greatness.

Orlando can’t rely on Dwight Howard to carry them offensively. Dwight is the franchise superstar, but he’s a defensive player. As much as everybody gives him grief for not being Hakeem Olajuwon, I can accept Dwight’s game. He’ll dominate the glass and change the game on defense. Whether he gives you 12 points or 28 points is just extra gravy. Jameer Nelson is a streaky shooter. And odds are Orlando isn’t going to get much from Rashard Lewis. So it’s on Vince to carry his squad wherever they’re going to go.

While VC’s biggest critics have plenty of ammunition in the tank to argue why he won’t come through under pressure, it’s not too late to change that perception. Championships go a long way in erasing bad memories.

Consider that Oscar Robertson didn’t win his first ring (and last) ring until he was 33 years old. Before that, Oscar was basically the LeBron James of his era: undeniable talent, insane numbers, racking up individual awards left and right, but always with that big zero hanging over his head while Bill Russell and Willis Reed cemented their legacies with championships. But after winning it all in 1971 — even if Oscar wasn’t even the best player on his team at the time thanks to MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — nobody questions Oscar’s stripes anymore.

Vince Carter can still do that. He can be Oscar. He can be John Elway. He can be A-Rod. If he puts up a monster game to nullify his Nick Anderson re-run, if Orlando finds a way to get back in this series, get to the Finals, and knock off a Lakers team they’ve proven they can beat, Vince’s career gets a fresh coat of paint. Years from now, when we’re putting together all-time rankings of the game’s best two-guards, you’ll see that Vince had over 20,000 points (he’s currently at 19,498), that he was probably the best athlete to ever play the most athletic position in the sport, and, as we like to say, “He got a ring.”

If that happens, Vince Carter goes down as a certain Hall of Famer, rightfully sitting next to legends like his talent should have warranted all along. He will go down in history as one of the greatest. But only if he’s great tomorrow.

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  • JAY

    “All he has to do is play the game of his life tomorrow.”

    LMAOoOoOOoOoOoo!!!

  • JAY

    Now that I got that out of the way…

    “As talented as he is, Vince is a rhythm player,”

    It’s true, but Vince’s song is off-beat. Not even Elaine Benes can jive to his rhythm.

  • Bruce

    Carter has to be great tomorrow, the rest of the series and the FINALS (if they get there). Carter will deliver tomorrow, a big fat GOOSE egg!

    Carter ain’t going to deliver, that’s not his nature!

  • karizmatic

    smh…I don’t know why you like Vince so much….but yeah it’s going to take more than a great performance tomorrow, he’s going to have to beat the Celtics by himself every game the rest of the series to erase the damage he’s done to his rep over his career.

  • http://diaryofatiredblackman.wordpress.com/ Cal

    Vince will play the game of his life….and the Magic will still lose. http://diaryofatiredblackman.wordpress.com/

  • JAY

    Vince will bend under the pressure… then go home in his favorite summer dress and size 12 Uggz.

    He’s a fuckin panty.

  • Bizz

    A VC game of his life is going to involve going off for 35-40 pts. Here’s the problem with that.

    BOSTON’S DEFENCE.

    He may go off against teams like New Orleans or the Raptors, but they’re not exactly the top teams in defensive efficiency. They also won’t wack you on the top of the head and say “deal with the fouls, we’re playing playoff basketball over here” whereas Boston would smother him with physical on ball defence and hammer him if he gets to the hole. That would force him to beat Boston on ridiculous fadeaways and stepbacks, which goes against what they actually need to do to win, since Boston is shutting down the perimeter game.

    Being smooth, finesse players is not going to beat the Celtics this post season. None of the teams they’ve faced so far have understood or adapted to this yet, which is why the Celtics have outmatched everyone this post season.

  • Dan

    I think vince has played well for his team to win. Unfortunately the other people that were big in the regular season like barnes and pietrus arent playing well. Oh yea and Rashad Lewis. I dont think VC is the problem. Wasnt he playing pretty bad most of the season and they still won? I know the playoffs are different but the rest of guys just arent doing it.

  • LakeShow84

    Like tryna squeeze Apple juice out of a LEMON..

  • LakeShow84

    Like tryna squeeze Apple juice out of a LEMON..

  • jzsmoove

    gotta start off with, I love Vince always have and will. But Vince aint the Mailman. And even when he was, the Mailman does not deliver on Saturdays either.

  • air99

    Hedo probably can make a better run compared to Carter, just saying.

  • foolio_iglesias

    May 23rd, 2010
    Vince Carter doesn’t play the game of his life after all.I don’t even think he plays the Milton Bradley Game of Life anymore,after all his properties got taken by force….

  • Fertsy

    Certain Hall of Famer?!?!? What has VC actually done?Scored some points and enuff Highlight Dunks for his own DVD trilogy but that is it.

    Don’t even mention the Nets, they were Kidd’s team. Kidd controlled all the pressure situation and Jefferson had the extra scoring when VC crumbled.

    Carter is a perfect example of style (highlights) over substance (softer than the StayPuff Marshmallow Man)

  • http://www.nba.com smoove chips

    if this guy gets in the hall of fame,mj and company should ask to be removed from the hall.despicable.i sed what feels bad to say but is the stone cold truth.he is not a HOF player.

  • John

    Carter played the worse game of his life. He needs to be benched and JJ Reddick should replace him in the line-up, period.