In a post a few months go, I wrote that Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce were clearly the two best players from the 1998 draft. Nowitzki was selected at #9 and Pierce at #10.
I expected at least one comment arguing for Vince Carter’s (the #5 pick) place in that discussion. After all, the career per-game numbers look like this:
Pierce: 22.5 points, 6.1 boards, 3.8 assists on 44.5 percent shooting and 36.9 shooting from three.
Carter: 22.9 points, 5.3 boards, 4.2 assists on 44.5 percent shooting and 37.5 shooting from three.
And yet nobody made a peep in Carter’s defense.
The end of last night’s game is a perfect encapsulation of why that is.
As you know, Paul Pierce sank two clutch free throws with 34 seconds left to give Boston a 95-92 lead. He drove aggressively, pulled up near the foul line and drew a foul the Magic argued they didn’t commit. The Magic did not want Pierce at the line.
Three seconds later, Vince Carter made a wonderful move to the basket, and Paul Pierce, with 5 fouls, nearly tackled him. Pierce preferred Carter earn his two points at the foul line, even if it meant fouling out. That alone is not a knock on Carter; the Celtics were ahead when Pierce made his decision to foul, while the Magic were behind and needed a straight-up stop.
Carter bricked the two free throws.
Of course, it’s not fair to boil two careers down to one sequence. Paul Pierce, despite his reputation, has missed many clutch foul shots in his career, as have most players; for a while in 2008 and 2009, it seemed as if Pierce hit 1-of-2 in every clutch foul-shooting spot.
And Carter, despite his reputation, has hit a few notable clutch shots in his career. And he’s got the rest of this series to make everyone forget about the two shots he missed last night.
But at this moment, those two misses are are in the top half of Carter’s career obituary. They won’t make the lead paragraph or even the second and third paragraphs—those are reserved for how he burned Toronto fans, his dunking and the semi- trumped up controversy about his game-day graduation from UNC.
But those missed foul shots come up pretty quickly after that, considering this is Carter’s first-ever appearance in the conference finals, and those are arguably the biggest foul shots of his pro career.
And those two makes by Pierce? They don’t even make his career obit, probably not even in a footnote.