Game Notes: Celtics at Nets

by Ryne Nelson

The last (and the first) time I went to the Medowlands, I got lost. Not only did I get lost, I got stranded and, most of all, I got my wallet emptied of all its cash. As Ben said the following day at the Dome, I got the full Meadowlands experience. I’ve since joked with Konate about how it’s his fault because he instructed me on how to get from Penn Station to the IZOD Center for what, after my experience, seemed like a very reasonable $10.

But, truly, last time was all my fault. My stupidity.

So you can see why an experience like that might keep a person away from the Meadowlands. First off, let me say that I’m better than that. This failed attempt at using public transport to get from New York to New Jersey and back to Brooklyn didn’t happen ages ago. It happened last week when I was doing “research” for an upcoming feature in Ish 128 (yes, the story’s already done—now you know how far in advance we work for the book). Sure, I didn’t want to mess up again—getting lost in the middle of miles of flat blacktop, freezing my ass off, trying to find a single person who had any clue about how to get back to the Secaucus station. That $34 cab ride was the most expensive five minutes I’ve had since… well, let’s leave that thought alone for now.

The best way, we all know, to confront fear and trepidation is to face it head-on. And since that fear was about traveling to New Jersey, I knew I had to do something about it, and quick. So I got the credential for Wednesday night’s game against the Celtics (and Net alumni Steph Marbury, aka Starbury), got the snazzy button up shirt, (for)got the shave and (for)got the nicer shoes. That was all OK, for two reasons, 1) I had my computer—I’d rather turn right back home instead of taking hand-written notes, and 2) My second trip to the Meadowlands actually worked as it was supposed to!

Sure, I was late, but I got there in one piece, didn’t jip myself by buying the wrong ticket, and I actually had a really nice conversation on the shuttle with a middle-eastern sounding engineer from Long Island about cars, suburbs, inner cities, kids, taxes, some other things and… basketball. A lot of the travel seemed familiar from my initial doomed trip, so that helped. I was able to do everything at least four times faster and with at least six times less stress. When I finally arrived at the IZOD Center, I felt like calling someone, shouting “SUCCESS!” and immediately hang up, but then I realized that wouldn’t be very nice and I probably would jinx myself on the way back.

I walked 180 degrees around the stadium to the media entrance, picked up my press pass (which happened to have my name printed, rather than hand-written—nice touch guys!), got the bag checked (yes, the computer’s still there!), and headed down the escalator to ground zero. Yes, the dinning room.

The rest of the action before the game doesn’t really deserve it’s own space—you thought this was a Game Notes column, eh?!—because it’s a blur of talking with food in my mouth and a quick Michelle Beadle sighting. A couple chomps on the official gum of the NBA—which happens to be Wrigley’s Double Mint, which happens to be awesome. A couple words with a couple other reporters who I knew and others who I just met. A couple big stomach growls, and I knew I was ready—stomachache in full effect, I took to some note-taking. So, if you’re still interested, be my guest…

Does anyone watch Vince Carter and get the feeling they’re watching him in slow motion? Even when he’s on the ground, it seems like he moves his body with a certain art. I’m not saying he’s slow, he just makes it lock smooth—maybe that’s the word I was looking for. He’s the opposite of Ray Allen, who happens to be guarding him on defense. When you literally slow down Ray Allen, it’s a beautiful thing, but J. Shuttlesworth in the flesh is a blur. Vince will always have incredible hands, and I get the feeling he’s consciously accentuating his length by soaring around his limbs. He’s off to a nice start, hitting a couple inside shots and taking some Celtic fouls. The Nets’ offense is running trough Vince and Brook Lopez in the first five minutes, and it’s getting them nice results.

The Cetlics play with much confidence and focus even without Kevin Garnett. They’re not playing their trademark defense, which is apparent from the outset. Let’s get this straight, the entire crowd—the entire worldwide basketball fan base, for that matter—wants to see what Stephon Marbury will do tonight. It would be a lie to say that I’m not curious as well, but seeing how the Celtics tick on defense against a mediocre offensive team… that’s something I’m interested in seeing. For a minute, a little daemon inside me planted these hateful thoughts about the reigning Defensive Player of the Year: If Garnett is really as valuable as advertise to the defense? As Garnett well knows, it takes five on both ends of the court, and one damn good defensive mastermind on the bench. The question is answered immediately: The Celtics can’t keep the Nets’ offense in check. I pluck the daemon of my right shoulder, shift a bit to my left (ignore the odd looks) and admit that Garnett is really important to this Celtics team. I also admit that Boston will have some unfriendly losses during these two weeks, or however long Big Ticket will be missing.

Lawrence Frank is always an interesting topic, although a stale topic. It seems like he’s not going anywhere and that he’ll never be going anywhere. Speaking with two Fox Sports radio correspondents during the pregame meal (of, did I say, sausage, sausage and more sausage?), I was told the now-longtime coach is “growing” with the team. My response, between greasy bites was, “Well, then Frank’s not ‘growing’ very fast then.” The Nets, over the recent years have grown stagnant, if not worse. Seven (or more, is it?) coaches have gotten the boot this season, and Lawrence Frank continues to be a Nets stronghold. He’s a great person, he’s well-liked in the locker room, heck, I even like him, he obviously has experience. All I’m saying is I guess his situation might become more volatile if the Nets were serious about becoming a contender.

The Starbury Show begins at the tail end of the first quarter, and it doesn’t disappoint. Steph’s performance disappoints, but the show itself does not. Area 51 easily blocks Steph’s first layup attempt, after Marbury unwisely tries some fancy action against three Nets. He then airballs a forced three-pointer two trips later. The amount of time he’s on the court seems much longer than it actually is because Steph’s voraciously booed every time he touches the ball. The fans just do not tire of booing the 32-year-old point guard. I’ve never seen or heard them this alive in the second quarter. Ever.

Marbury’s getting a good stretch of time in the game. About five minutes into the second quarter, Rivers tries a Rondo and Marbury backcourt. Marbury actually started walking toward the bench when Rondo appeared at the scorer’s table, but Rondo grabbed Eddie House instead. This moved Marbury to the 2. The obvious difference is there are significantly less boos in the IZOD Center because Starbury is getting less touches. The offense moves much better with Rondo at the helm, as he clearly understands the team at what the Celtics are trying to do. It’s also clear Rondo’s just a better passer than Stephon.

Speaking with Pascal Giberne before the game, he referred to a Marbury vs. Starbury dynamic—as in, the good and the bad Steph. He said Marbury was at the morning shootaround and halfway through the pre-game interviews. Then Marbury turned into Starbury during the final half of the interview period, complete with monosyllabic responses and scowls. I thought it was a language barrier thing when I first heard Pascal say it, but it quickly added up. And it’s a good way to think about this player. My take is he’ll be more consistent—at least with how he acts publicly—as he becomes more imbued with Celtics umbuntu culture, and especially as the Playoffs near. What he says to the media, how he portrays himself—those things will affect the team directly. If he slips up too much or too hard, he’s not going to have a job this season, and that’s a lot less free advertising for the Starbury brand.

Also, I understand it’s fun to boo a player from the stands. But I can’t justify why the Nets fans are so ardently booing Marbury for the entire game. Sure he was a ball hog when he was a Net, but he also averaged his career high in points and over eight assists. He was an All-Star as a Net, and All-Stars are supposed to take over games. He must have said something terrible about Rod Thorn in the papers after he earned that All-NBA Third Team selection.

Tonight, Marbury is completely rusty. It’s a good thing that 1) He’s now just a role player, and 2) The Celtics have enough fire power to easily beat the Nets. This is why the ‘Marbury Experiment’ will work—he can’t step out of line. He won’t be anywhere near running the show, so his head will remain at sea level and the rest of the Celtics will snap him back in line if he tries any crazy shit. As far as play on the court goes though, right now, I’m sure the Nets would much prefer Keyon Dooling over Stephon Marbury.

After a quick start, Carter is hurting his team by taking the more fadeaways than I’ve seen a player take in a long time. He hasn’t even taken a normal jumper—just fadeaway after fadeaway. As if it wasn’t enough that Carter did it, his teammates are starting follow Carter’s lead. Jarvis Hayes—who looks like the same player as Carter to the nearsighted Game Notes writer who forgot his glasses—is taking the high-difficultly shots because he wants to confuse Frank and remain in the game.

This game for the Celtics seems more like a throw away. They’re playing most of their bench players, they’re letting Stephon Marbury get some significant tick. Not only that, but Marbury seemingly hasn’t made a good play all game. He’s rusty and he’s letting the crowd get to him. The game is almost far enough out of hand in the third quarter that the Celtics would be playing its bench anyway, but it seems like the entire game has been garbage time. Bill Walker is getting decent burn for goodness sake!

The Nets’ hype ringleader is a taller, skinnier Cabby (except this guy, thankfully, doesn’t do player interviews). My barometer for whether a PA announcer, hype leader, etc. has a good voice for the job is if you could withstand having a conversation with them if they were talking in a similar tone. This guy clearly would get annoying after two words. It’s funny how a person who makes their voice sound so wacky on purpose could make a living doing it. Then again, R.I.P. to “In a world…”

Will Yi Jianlian ever be an All-Star? I think there’s no question about it—he’ll be a starting All-Star for at least a couple years if the current voting system remains in place. As David Stern continues to report, the NBA is only growing in China and Yi will be a long time starter in the League (or at least as long as he’s with the Nets). He’s mostly non-existent tonight, but if he can get 30+ minutes per game as a solid role player, he’ll be in the big game in a snap. To the Chinese, Yi is similar to Dirk Nowitzki—he’s a 7-0 wing who likes the outside jumper more than the post and could get more rebounds and play better defense if he put his mind to it. Maybe that’s why Dirk isn’t that popular in China…

Kendrick Perkins is a guy who could use some soccer in the offseason. If he could get quicker feet, he’d boost himself from “average center” to “effective and scarily surprising center.” I’m not just talking about on the offensive end, but he could even become a better defensive player if he could just shuffle those feet a bit more.

How many times do the Celtics have to pick up Glen Davis from the floor? The dude rarely gets the offensive foul call and he always dives for the already hopeless loose balls. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mikki Moore passes him the rotation soon.

Rajon Rondo, despite having his first name mispronounced by the Nets’ PA announcer, is having a great game. I’ve talked down Rondo in the comments before (always been too tentative to write an entire post about it… maybe one day, though), but he’s clearly impressing everyone tonight. Rondo’s added another level to his offense this season—the crossover. Now, he’s a deadly offensive weapon because he’s able to change directions so quickly that he can get to the cup even easier. Penetration is Rondo’s game, so this is as good as it gets for him. Celtics fans, enjoy Rajon Rondo while you can. This season, Rondo is playing as well as he’ll ever play in the League.

The Celtics will rely on him hard in the Playoffs. If healthy, they’ll easily meet the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. How Rondo fares against Mo Williams (especially on the defensive end) will be the key for that series. He’s a stark contrast to Marbury, in that he plays with poise and patience in the offense and Marbury is running around like a chicken with his head cut off. There, I said it.

Paul Pierce, who has been quiet for the majority of the game, putting up points perfectly within the flow of the offense, becomes more assertive in the final minutes. Clearly, he doesn’t want to let the Nets comeback from a 10-point deficit, especially after they’ve met Lawler’s Law (by reaching 100 points first). Pierce makes a 14-foot deuce in transition, picking up the AND 1. The crowd erupts in cheer. I find myself shouting, “Where are we?”

The reporter beside me says, “In the NBA.”

I’m expecting some late heroics by Devin Harris because he sparked the Nets’ fourth quarter surge, but it’s not happening this time. Boston gets consecutive stops on Harris drives. No foul, no chance. Boston calmly executes every time down the court on offense and maintain their composure when it counts the most. It seems like they’re not even missing Garnett on offense, and they aren’t. Garnett defers to Pierce and Allen in the clutch, and they ended up with the ball in their hands again tonight.

So that’s how the Nets game ended, and if you’re still with me, you’re probably interested in how my evening Meadowlands adventure concludes. To sum it up with one word: well. I skipped the locker room and jumped back 180 degrees around the stadium and caught a shuttle, caught the train, caught another train. Speed it all up on the page, and I’m back here in Brooklyn, only about an hour-and-a-half after the final buzzer… I think. It’s 11:30, and that means it’s still the day after Square Root Day (shouts to mom on this. Everyone else—try to figure out what Square Root Days means. Prize from the vault if you get it right!).

Yes, it’s still Wednesday, which means I still have enough gas in the tank to put the finishing touches on these notes and post them before it’s time to snooze. Off goes the semi-nice button-up shirt. Off go the semi-decent dark denim jeans with the top button already unbuttoned.  On go my orange and blue Illini short that I bought on a college visit in 2003—my favorite shorts, you know, the type you’ll never throw away. On goes my 8>3 t-shirt from (figure out what THAT means…). My brown Disneyland mug is full with luke-warm water, and I’m good to go. I’ll be snoozing on a recently popped air mattress, in no time. Yes! I desperately crave grapefruit (why I would crave anything after that massive dinner is beyond me), but that can be ignored for the moment.

I’m back, and I dropped the focus helmet back on. Time’s running short, and it’s getting late, which reminds me that, if it was a week ago, I’d still be trying to get home. SUCCESS!!