By Mike Greger 12-1-07
Sitting in the Visitors press section at a NBA game when a team from Canada is in town is an experience. Press row needs subtitles. When I shout,’ My man,’ crickets chirp. When I come back with ‘Look, it’s the Hansen brothers!’ Everyone laughs. Jose Calderon will start at the point tonight for the Raptors. This is met with several ‘Muy Biens’ from the Toronto press faithful. I sit back and munch on my French fries as quietly as I can. Interestingly enough, there are NO natives of Canada on the Raptors’ roster, but they do boast five international players, including Italy’s own Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani gets the start tonight at power forward for an injured Chris Bosh. Bargnani is coming off a career-high 26 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
IN THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER: The Raptors were the surprise team of the league last year and will continue to surprise teams this season. The Wizards will attempt to push tempo early, if they expect to compete.
Thanks, Wolf. Don’t quit your day job.
Hearts are heavy. The video tribute to slain Redskins safety Sean Taylor is priceless. The arena resembles a church. ‘We will miss you Sean’ flashes on the Jumbotron and the D.C. faithful applauds loudly. A moment of silence follows, maybe 30 seconds. There are few dry eyes in the house.
FIRST QUARTER: Brendan Haywood controls the tip, kicks to Caron Butler AKA **Straws for three. Buckets. Bargnani answers, 3-2.
Straws hits another three – Wizards are spreading the floor, working the ball around the perimeter early, much like Toronto.
Buckets, Straws hits another three, Toronto calls timeout: 9:35 left in the first quarter, 9-3 Wizards on top. Straws season-high for threes is five – he has three in the first 2 1/2 minutes. Straws is shooting .528 from 3-point range this season and averaging 22.6 points per game. Both are career highs.
Wizards are playing a soft zone, doubling Bargnani in the post. The Raptors might rely on this too often .. box out Antawn Jamison. Jamison rejects a wide-open Bargnani. BLUE MAGIC! All ball.
Andray Blatche replaces Haywood; Carlos Delfino checks in for Anthony Parker. Buckets. Delfino connects on a 3-pointer: 17-14 Wizards. Pay back. DeShawn Stevenson nails a three – all tied up, 17-17.
Time for the Big General to step up. Antonio Daniels takes a deflected pass from Straws, pushes it back to Butler for the slam. Rookie forward Dom McGuire checks in. This is HUGE. McGuire before Nick Young?? Where is Nachooooooo! (Gilbert Arenas) The newfound trio eats the toppings. In case you didn’t know, Arenas is best friends with Young and McGuire.
Don’t forget Roger Mason Jr. He heaves one from half court. No dice. End of one: all tied up, 23-23.
SECOND QUARTER: All Wizards. No-look pass Straws to Blatche, good for two. Daniels behind-the-back down to Straws. Can’t finish, but Wiz dictating tempo … right. Wolf?? Time to pay tribute.
FREEZE FRAME: ‘He Got Game’ clip proves the Boston Celtics can’t be stopped. They got Jesus Shuttlesworth for crying out loud. Apparently, the Bullets/Wizards had Jesus before he was baptized, My favorite banner: “Welcome back Black Jesus!” If Paul Pierce is The Truth, then Earl Monroe is definitely Black Jesus.
He wins the team’s best dressed contest. Monroe: 2, Shuttlesworth 0. Stay tuned.
Don’t sleep on Jason Kapono. He is a stone-cold assassin from heyond the arc. He has 8 points after back-to-back threes. Kapono penetrates, kicks to Bargnani. Buckets. 37-30 Wizards on top. Kapono (23 points) again. Timeout: Wizards, 39-32.
Knee-buckling cross-over from Straws frees up Mason for the easy jumper. Straws again up-and-under. All Wizards. Timeout, Toronto with 3:49 to go in the second quarter. Enter Frank Lucas – My man! This is only my second game covering the Wizards for SLAM but if Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler aren’t All-Stars then we have failed as basketball fans. Butler has 15 at the break; Jamison has 12. More importantly, they are efficient. Straws finished the half 6-of-11 from the field; Jamison is 4-of-8. For the season, Straws is sitting at .525 and Jamison is .427. Wizards go into the locker room with an 8-point lead after a 19-8 run.
EARL ‘THE PEARL’ MONROE
First off, Kudos to the Wizards PR staff. The waffles and apple pie ice cream are worth the price of admission. Monroe graces center court, claiming this is the “highlight of his life.” Apparently, not even three guys in a phone booth could stop Monroe, he was Magic before there was a Magic – more importantly, Earl was Jesus Shuttlesworth before Ray Allen was. Ssshhh, don’t tell Pierce.
Meantime, I get back to Canada, I mean, my seat, halfway through the third quarter. In the press room, Earl Monroe is talking about practice!?
“I did know what I was doing at least a lot of my game was improvisation, and that is why I never liked to practice. I preferred to scrimmage, because the things I did in scrimmages were automatic.”
The Pearl also relates a story about how Wizards owner Abe Pollin bought him a cheesesteak prior to a game. Turns out the Philly native had eaten one a few days earlier and made headlines. As a Philly native myself, I take pride.
Still, this night belongs to Jamison. The Raptors don’t have enough bodies to put on him. He’ll finish with 28 points and 14 rebounds. He steps back, hits a three. 86-74 Wizards. Daniels is pinned up, Jamison grabs it and scores. He can’t be stopped.
You know in American Gangster when Nicky Barnes tells Frank Lucas once you buy something you own it? Well, Antawn Jamison owns the Raptors. He can re-paint their uniforms and/or change ticket prices at this point, everything is going his way. He has a pass deflected late in the fourth quarter, and it somehow goes back to him. Jamsion kicks to a wide-open Roger Mason Jr., who scores to make it 94-87.
MOON WALKER: Jamario Moon is a star in the making, but he can’t defend Jamison. It doesn’t help he’s giving up 20 pounds. Moon will finish with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Miss by Blatche, Jamsion clears out Moon and scores, 98-91 Wizards They leave Kapono open: Buckets, 98-94, Straws is fouled , misses first free throw, but hits the second one. Timeout Toronto with 16.3 seconds remaining. A missed trey ball by Kapono and rebound by Straws seals it for Wizards. Washington wins on Earl Monroe Night: 101-97.
After the game, the Wizards put it in perspective.
After Brendan Haywood pins Nick Young down, Dom McGuire emerges to help his friend, leaping on Haywood. But locker-room order is restored when Jamison emerges from the shower. “That’s Frank Lucas right there,” says Haywood. “Don’t mess with him.” No one does. Jamison stares down the trio and order is restored. My man.
Jamison comments on the Sean Taylor shooting:
“I’m a fan and I pray for his family to cope with this situation. It’s sad. We are targets we have to be careful and pay attention to our surroundings. Even when you’re in the comfort zone of your own home, you have people invading your privacy.”
Jamison on playing without Gilbert Arenas:
“When a situation like this comes up, certain guys have to change their thought process, and their games. It’s unfortunate. I’m having the most fun of my career and Gilbert isn’t here to enjoy it. The young guys are keeping me on my toes.”
**Straws: Antawn Jamison makes fun of Caron Butler for chewing straws while on the bench.