Vince Carter has reinvented his basketball reputation in Dallas. The father of “Vinsanity” had always been considered a great dunker and a pure scorer before he arrived in Dallas and accepted a job as the Mavericks’ sixth man. In the past three years, according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Carter has “been about so many of the right things” when it comes to basketball and being a teammate.
“You always hope a guy like that can have a moment like this in a big playoff game,” Carlisle said Saturday evening, minutes after the Mavericks shocked the San Antonio Spurs, 109-108, in game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
That “moment” came on Carter’s buzzer-beating three-pointer from the corner as time expired, a shot that gave the Mavs the win, put them firmly in the driver’s seat of this series, underscored Carter’s importance to a potential Mavs series upset and offered Carter a bit of redemption 13 years in the making.
“You always hope a guy like that can have a moment like this in a big playoff game,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
Some moments stay with players a long time. Carter has never been to the NBA finals. A chance to do that made Dallas an attractive landing spot as a free agent three years ago. But one of his best chances to reach the finals came in 2001 as a member of the Toronto Raptors.
Carter was at the height of his game, had a Hall of Fame coach in Lenny Wilkens and he had a clear shot to win game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals that year.
A corner three, just like Saturday. A committed defender in the air, just like Saturday. All Carter had to do was wait and shoot. But that day he missed.
“2001,” Carter said with a smile after a reporter asked him about the similarity in the two shots. “May 20. Game 7. Yeah I remember it.”
Carter used the fuel from that disappointment to blow the roof off the American Airlines Center with his game-winning three.
“I thought about that as we came out of the timeout,” Carter said. “I thought to myself, ‘If you get the ball let’s make this one.’ In my mind I was ready for it.”
When you’re young and an athlete and disappointment comes your way the rational thing to do is to think, “There’s always next year.” But Carter, now 37, doesn’t have many next years left. He’s a free agent after this season.
Before you argue that it’s absurd to think this team can reach the NBA finals, remember not many believed the Mavs would get out of the first round in 2011.
Maybe he comes back to Dallas next season, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe no one wants him. Maybe he retires.
The Mavs have played with a sense of urgency this entire series. They’ve outplayed the Spurs in many cases. These are two mature teams who know the clock is running out on their window for another title. Many players have scored more points than Carter in this series. But Carter exemplifies the notion that no athlete can outrun Father Time and that, sometimes, being the star isn’t the best path to a championship.
And you argue that it’s absurd to think this Mavericks team can reach the NBA finals out of the Western Conference, remember that there weren’t many that believed the Mavs would get out of the first round in 2011. That roster was filled with players like Carter — fighting Father Time and hungry for a ring.
“He’s such a pro and always early and just all that kind of stuff,” Carlisle said. “He’s constantly preaching the message of what we are trying to be as a team and things like that. I don’t want to get hokey with it, but he’s been that good for us.”
Carter’s game-winner came on a play familiar to diehard Mavs fans. It’s similar to the play that freed up Monta Ellis for a game-winning basket against Portland earlier this season.
Carlisle knew that the Spurs would keep an eye on Ellis, so he went so far as to tell Carter that the ball was coming his way and that he would make the shot. Not only was it the same shot that Carter missed 13 years ago, but it was the same shot that he practices every day – fading away and imagining a player in his face, just like Manu Ginobili was on Saturday.
“Sometimes you miss a big shot – 2001 – and you hold onto it for a while until you get the opportunity again,” Carter said. Thirteen years later, Carter gets his redemption, and the Mavs get a leg up on the Spurs.