Prior to the game, I had a reservation at a French restaurant in downtown Toronto. Dinner guests included wifey and a chatty slew of her girlfriends – a perilous situation for any red blooded male to be sure. Thankfully, I had the game as a built-in excuse to bolt early.
Two glasses of the ridiculously overpriced red wine and an appetizer later, and I was making my way past the snooty maitre d’ and walking towards the Air Canada Centre.
-Upon entering the Wizards’ locker room, I’m greeted with the following message on the white board: “Please have popcorn for Wizards”. Nick Young informs me that it was fellow rookie Dominique McGuire’s request.
-Both Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson are loudly rapping to songs bumping in their enormous headphones. This being a family-friendly website, I am not at liberty to print the lyrics coming out of DeShawn’s mouth.
-A shirtless Antawn Jamison walks across the room and begins flexing his arms for no apparent reason. Everyone leaves him alone, which is probably for the best.
-Both Nick Young and Dominic McGuire have Chuck Taylors in front of their stalls. Not only do they live together, but they (apparently) also shop together.
(Speaking of fashion: I will not reveal his name because I’m not out to get guys, but a certain Wizard forward has a large, glistening, and decidedly female bag in his locker. I’m sure he’d claim that it’s a European carry-all if someone confronted him about it, but we all know the deal.)
-To see DeShawn Stevenson’s Paul Bunyanesque beard up close is, in a word, frightening. It’s not only voluminous, but scraggly, unkempt and totally wild. I’m pretty sure he’s housing a family of birds in there.
(DeShawn tells me that he and Drew Gooden have an undisclosed amount of money riding on the beard-off, and that there’s no way he’s letting Drew win.)
-Antonio Daniels cares about baseball. Intensely. When Nick Young reveals that his favorite player of all time is Deion Sanders, which for whatever reason greatly upsets Daniels, the veteran guard hurls a water bottle at him and it misses the rook’s head by mere inches. Startled, Young runs out of the room giggling.
-The Washington Wizards, perhaps due to Arenas’ status as an Internets celebrity, are hyper-aware of what’s written about them in the press. They also all seem to hold abject hatred for a certain Washington Times writer, who they claim is always killing them in his column. From what I could gather, his team given nickname is “Short White Homeless-Looking White Dude”.
-The Raptors’ locker room features several flat screen televisions, wood-paneled lockers, and some of the thickest and most comfortable carpet you could ever hope to walk on. The visitors, meanwhile, are forced to walk on the cold hard floor.
-Jose Calderon is perhaps the least-intimidating and most cordial NBA player that I’ve ever spoken to. Unlike some of his League brethren, who treat media like pesky flies equipped with digital recorders, Calderon actually takes the time to listen to your questions and look you in the eye when answering them. An all-around swell guy.
(He tells me that despite Gilbert’s scathing remarks prior to All-Star Weekend there’s no bad blood between the two, and that he enjoys watching Arenas play. When I suggest that he go after Gil on his own blog, he laughs and politely declines.)
-Kris Humphries, I’m guessing is a poker player. I was able to deduce this when I spied a copy of the entertaining book “Bringing Down the House” under his arm.
-Maceo Baston, despite the high probability that he will not see the floor tonight, is nonetheless taping his own feet. Baston explains that he doesn’t have access to any of the modern medical technology that pro athletes make use of on a daily basis, to which Calderon replies, “Why, do you play in Eastern Europe or something?”
-Right before both teams take the court, Jamario Moon is … moon-walking. Why, of course he is. The fact that he’s doing it to a Trick Daddy song only adds to the greatness of the moment.
-Curiously, the Wizards run their first couple of possessions through the stubbornly immobile Brendan Haywood, who somehow comes through with relative ease.
-The Wiz are getting whatever shot they want in the early going, and Sam Mitchell and his over-pomaded hair are forced to take a quick timeout. Wiz up eight.
-On the Third Day, when God was doling out athleticism, let’s just say that Anthony Parker was absent. An ill-fated drive begins with him catching the pill on the wing, driving along the right baseline in an foolish attempt to dunk, and ends with Parker eating a face-full of Spalding courtesy of Haywood.
-Washington’s guards are aggressively pressuring the Raptor ball-handlers and it’s throwing the whole Toronto offense out of whack. As a result, the Wizards are up 11 as the first quarter winds down.
Primoz Brezec, who’s decided to wear one sock longer than the other tonight (perhaps in some kind of confused tribute to LL Cool J), knocks down a free throw to cut the lead to 9 at the end of the 1st Q.
-In the lull between quarters, like many teams, the Raptors organization picks randomly selected ticket buyers from the crowd and give them a chance to win various prizes. Today, a young girl of no more than 11 years of age is asked to pick something from underneath a huge Smirnoff Ice box. To my great disappointment, she does not win a lifetime supply of free booze.
-Even though Washington is leading, their offense isn’t exactly inspiring. As far as I can tell, if they’re not dumping the ball into Haywood and waiting for the double team that never comes, the perimeter guys take turns going one-one-one and launching fadeaway 20-footers. DeShawn seems to enjoy this tremendously.
-The Rapts come alive early in the second quarter. A couple of steals resulting in breakaway dunks has cut the lead to 31-27.
-Nick Young needs to be in a Dunk Contest ASAP. He just took off from a couple of feet outside the lane and hammered all over Andrea Bargnani with two hands. An audible “oooh!” can be heard from the stunned crowd.
-Without Bosh in the lineup (out with a sore knee), the Raptors have quite literally no inside presence. As such, they’re jacking up a ton of three balls. Something Bargnani does not mind at all. The trigger-happy Italian has knocked in three of four bombs and has 18 points. He has also cut the lead down to 3 with just over two minutes to go in the first half.
(Toronto’s inside play is so dismal tonight, that my buddy Ryan McNeil of Hoopsworld astutely points out that Jamison has more rebounds than the entire Raptors starting lineup.)
-Calderon curls into the lane and trims the lead to four. The in-house hype man lingers on his first name for what seems like an eternity, before theatrically rolling the R in the Spaniard’s last name. That may have been the most annoying thing that I’ve ever heard.
53-45 for Washington at the half.
-Good to see that the vicious hit he took in Miami two nights ago hasn’t slowed Bargnani down one bit. He’s looking for his shot every time he gets the rock, and seems to be showing no ill effects. Andrea is the game’s leading scorer so far.
-The Wizards continue to turn the ball over, resulting in easy fast break points for Toronto. Five-point game.
Antonio Daniels gets his feces swatted up against the backboard by Jamario Moon, who proceeds to tell Daniels all about it as he’s sprawled on the floor in a state of confusion.
(Haywood, perhaps offended by what just happened to his teammate, duct tapes Calderon’s layup attempt on the ensuing possession. Eye for an eye.)
-A Bargnani three and a Calderon layup (plus the foul) gives Toronto their first lead of the game, and the atmosphere in the building instantly changes. Moon then follows it up with a nice one-handed dunk, and the roof nearly comes off the joint.
-Anthony Parker comes flying down the right side of the court on a fast break, and he throws up a hideous layup attempt that misses absolutely everything. This being Toronto, though, he gets the hometown bailout call from the ref.
-The Wizards offense is self-destructing, and Toronto has taken a six point lead with just over a minute to go in the third.
74-68 going into the fourth.
-Joey Graham recently came out and said that he’s the most versatile player in the whole damn the League (!!!) For the record, he has not seen a nanosecond of playing time tonight. Sam Mitchell must be saving that stunning versatility of his for the Playoffs. Well, that or the Summer League.
(Something tells me the NBA isn’t being very thorough in its drug testing.)
-My kid brother is at the game with a few of his friends. A bonafide computer wiz, he’s in town for a series of job interviews with a couple of the bigger movie studios (who were kind enough to hook him up with seats for tonight’s festivities.) The guy doesn’t watch a whole lot of ball, and he’s asked for my help to make sense of the action on the floor. Below is our chat, via text message:
Bro: OK, I know about the Raptors a bit, tell me about the dudes in the ugly gold unis.
Me: Well, their star player is out with a knee injury, but he’s one of the wackiest characters in all of sports and maintains a wildly-popular blog.
Bro: That’s kind of geeky, no?
Me: A little. But the Internets love him for it.
Bro: Who’s the weird looking white guy?
Me: Oh, that’s Oleksiy Pecherov. He’s the Ukrainian Stewie Griffin.
Bro: I thought he looked familiar. Was he prematurely born or something?
Me: It’s entirely possible.
Bro: What’s the deal with #4?
Me: Antawn Jamison. Talented but underappreciated forward. His parents also mistakenly thought they were being clever when they spelled his first name the way they did.
Bro: And the huge awkward guy?
Me: That’s Brendan Haywood. He’s good for three things: Grabbing the occasional rebound; clogging up the lane; and trading punches with teammates.
Bro: I like him. OK, and lastly, who’s the guy with the messed up teeth?
Me: Andray Blatche. Marginally talented third year player. He enjoys long walks on the beach, sunsets, and picking up the occasional hooker.
Bro: Whoa! I need to follow the NBA more.
-Nick Young steals the ball and goes the length of the court before tear-dropping it in over the outstretched arm of Jamario Moon. Hops vs. Hops.
Game tied at 74 with ten minutes to go.
-Toronto’s crowd isn’t exactly hardcore. With their team down three points, a wave inexplicably breaks out. Imagine if someone in Philly attempted to start one of those (assuming there were enough people in the gym to make it happen, of course.) That person might get shot.
-Nick Young with his second facial of the night. He might as well be a porn star at this point.
(The latest Young throwdown, by the way, landed on Jamario Moon’s head. Simply nasty.)
-Moon comes right back and knocks down a long three to make the score 84-81 for the Wizards with just over 5 minutes to go.
-Calderon ties the game up with a three from the same spot that Moon shot from seconds ago. The Jumbotron then catches a fan with a “Ca Ca for Calderon” poster. The three-year old in me gets a kick out of that.
(While we’re here: I’ve never understood the appeal of getting your mug shown on the Jumbotron. Yet people absolutely eat it up. Grown men with families, careers and mortgages go ape sh*t when they see their image up there. It’s like catnip for the ticket-buying sports fan.)
-For a game lacking the two biggest names on both sides of the ball, it has been pretty entertaining. Wiz up 91-89 with two minutes to go.
-After a missed three from Carlos Delfino, Jamison waltzes into the lane for an easy layup. Something tells me that wouldn’t have happened had Bosh been healthy.
Roger Mason Jr. then stabs the Raptors in their collective hearts by drilling a back-breaking three. Or does he?
-Anthony Parker cans a three of his own, and the lead is cut to two with 40 seconds remaining. Drama.
-Moon then gets a steal off a disastrous inbounds pass by Mason Jr, and he’s fouled. Pressure-packed free throws coming up…First one is good. Second one is up, aaaaaand, GOOD! Tie game, crowd absolutely losing it. 30 seconds to go.
-DeShawn Stevenson can’t feel his face, or the pressure, because he tips in a missed shot to give his Wizards a 2-point lead with 20 seconds remaining.
-Bargnani gets stripped, but a foul is called. Free throws are both good. Tie game with 13 seconds to go.
-Nick Young is somehow entrusted with the game-winning shot, and he misses (albeit, not by much) and we’re going to OT.
-Young, who’s wearing absurdly dope Nike Air Zoom Flight 95’s (word to Jason Kidd!), drops a pass inside to Jamison who ties it up again.
-With the Raptors up by two with just over 2 minutes remaining, Calderon lofts one up for a levitating Moon who catches the ball but can’t quite clear a confused and earth-bound Darius Songalia. Moon crash lands. Hard. A foul is called on Darius, and inexplicably, it’s not a shooting one.
-With exactly 40 seconds to go, Jamison goes to the line and gives Washington a two-point lead. He has 23 points and 15 rebounds, which is not a bad day’s work…Actually, make that 25 and 15, as two more freebies push the lead to four and end things for all intents and purposes.
Final Score: 110-106 for the Wiz.
-Sam Mitchell conducts his pregame chat with the press corps in a small, makeshift room. The coach stands in front of a hideous red pull down screen that’s emblazoned with the Raptors logo and that of their television station.
-Sam doesn’t seem too beat up about the loss, and is resigned to the fact that his team is going to struggle mightily with his star power forward out for God knows how long.
(Mitchell is rocking a white Oxford shirt, with gold cuff links, and it appears that his initials are stitched into the cuffs. A very nice touch.)
-In the Toronto locker room, the mood is predictably somber.
-Primoz Brezec, though, seems to have moved on from the tough loss rather quickly. His locker is next to Calderon’s, who is taking questions from a throng of media, and Primoz is busy apparently prepping himself for the remainder of the evening.
-I observe the tall Slovenian spray himself with cologne no less than 15 times – up and down both of his arms, on his chest, and even on the back of his neck – and I begin to feel sorry for the poor young woman who will have to endure that insanely strong scent tonight.
-The white board says the team has a noon time practice tomorrow, but it’s Friday night, and Primoz is ready to party!