by Jeremy Visser… I’m pretty sure it’s the dream of every basketball fan with an annual income under $250,000 to sit courtside at an NBA game just once in their life. Well, at least it was mine. On Sunday, I had that dream come true when the fine people at Gatorade and High Road Communications had me experience a new contest they’re unveiling in the next couple weeks — one in which they give away dope seats to sporting events across the world. So, there I was, just a normal kid sitting courtside for the Raps and Celtics.
I won’t talk about the actual game as much as the experience, but I’ll start off by saying Toronto lost, as usual, to the bad boy Celtics. Are we ever gonna make a stand against these guys? Without KG, Boston jumped to an early 10-0 lead and never trailed in a 114-107 win. A little excitement at the end with a late Raptor push, but nothing to show for it. Oh well, it didn’t do too much to dampen the mood.
Anyway, probably the best part of sitting that close was witnessing Rasheed Wallace swearing at the refs first-hand. There’s actually a lot more to ‘Sheed than what you see on TV, though — the guy doesn’t just periodically blow up at these guys, he’s having a constant conversation with them all game, lobbying for calls and letting them know just what’s his. Sweet kid. Anyway, this sets up the highlight of the day for me: Early in the third quarter, Wallace caught a pass right in front of me and fired a three with me yelling in his ear. Of course, the shot dropped, and ‘Sheed did a little turnaround and glare. Never thought I’d be the guy getting glared at by an NBA player after he nails a three, and it actually felt pretty, pretty, pretty sweet.
Another guy with a mouth on him (and this comes as no surprise): Celtics tough guy Kendrick Perkins. The funniest moment of the game came when Perk was fouled in close and yelled at a couple teenagers sitting behind the net to “eat a d—!” The big boy proceeded to miss a pair of free throws that gave the Raps a shot to pull closer, but a couple late turnovers sealed our heroes’ fate.
All in all, a crazy afternoon (can you believe Rasheed glared at me?!) and one that I’ll be talking about for about 27 years, or at least until Gatorade and High Road randomly choose me to sit courtside and run up a tab on their credit cards again. Seriously though, it was incredible — an experience I won’t soon forget.
by Jeremy Visser… Gilbert Arenas’ latest little flap: Not too great for him, but very, very good for the Washington Bullets Wizards. In the wake of his little locker room standoff with no-name teammate Javaris Crittenton a couple weeks ago, NBA commissioner David Stern announced today Arenas is suspended indefinitely and a further penalty may be looming. The good news for Arenas’ team, of course, is they’ll likely get a shot to void the horrible six-year, $111 million contract they gave him a couple years ago.
I haven’t had a chance to weigh in on this since it broke about a week ago, which is surprising because I usually jump at every opportunity to take shots (no pun intended) at good old Gilbert. In case you missed it, Arenas and Crittenton apparently argued on a team flight on Dec. 21 about a gambling debt, and after a day off, continued their feud in the Wizards’ locker room on Dec. 23. According to reports, Arenas placed three guns on a stool by Crittenton’s locker and asked him to choose one, to which Crittenton flipped and claimed he had his own piece (how’s that for lingo?). Since then, there’s been various reports that the whole thing was a joke gone bad. Regardless, Stern didn’t really think it was funny, and I get the feeling the District of Columbia isn’t about to laugh this one off either. If I’m Arenas, I’m preparing for the Plaxico Burress treatment. Oh well, it’s not like he was doing anything on the basketball court anyway, other than scoring a handful of points for a bad team that’s better off without him. Arenas getting locked up may also free up some more time for his fiance to spend with Shaq, too.
Back to the Wizards, though: Assuming they wash their hands of Arenas, as they’ll likely do given the opportunity, they’re suddenly a major player next summer. Sure, LeBron and Dwyane Wade aren’t going anywhere, but with money to blow they could be in on the Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh sweepstakes. If you ask me, Arenas’ stupidity is the best thing that could’ve happened to the Wizards, even if it took seven years to develop.
by Jeremy Visser… Being enshrined in the hallowed Blue Jays Level of Excellence will have to suffice for Roberto Alomar for at least one more year — the greatest second baseman of this generation fell eight votes short of reaching the Hall of Fame yesterday in his first year of eligibility, finishing with 73.7 percent of the votes (with 75.0 the magic mark). Former Expo and Cub Andre Dawson was the only player to make the cut, finishing at 77.9 percent in his ninth year on the ballot.
Sure, Alomar’s omission this year is a bit of a disappointment, but considering players generally receive more and more support in the vote each year, he’s basically a shoe-in for 2011. I’ve never quite understood why it makes a difference from year-to-year — if a player is Hall of Fame caliber, then shouldn’t he be in in his first year of eligibility? If he’s not right away, then why so deserving the next (or in Dawson’s case, the ninth) time? Oh well, that’s the way it goes. Alomar will get his, that’s for sure.
Also of note, 287-game winner Bert Blyleven fell just shy in his 13th year on the ballot, finishing with a 74.2 percent favour and likely ensuring he’ll be enshrined with Alomar in 2011, assuming he doesn’t go and drop F-bombs while broacasting anytime between now and then.
Other former Jays receiving votes included Jack Morris (282 votes, 52.3 percent), Fred McGriff (116, 21.5 in his first year of eligibility), Dave Parker (82, 15.2), Pat Hentgen (one, 0.2) and David Segui (seriously?) (one, 0.2).
by Jeremy Visser… Okay, well maybe that title is an overstatement, but considering the way the Raptors played Orlando in their three previous meetings this season, I’ll file this one under improbable. Despite coming oh-so-close to blowing an 18-point lead, Toronto held on for a 108-103 win last night to get back to .500 for the first time since mid-November.
Jose Calderon returned from a hip flexor and reminded us that he can still be a pretty, pretty productive player in this league, particularly in a supporting role, as he so famously established himself a couple years ago when the Raptors were still dealing with the headache known as T.J. Ford. Calderon backed up Jarrett Jack for the first time, finishing with eight assists and just one turnover in 24 minutes. All five Toronto starters finished in double digits, with Andrea Bargnani leading a balanced effort with 18. Chris Bosh had a double-double with 16 and 11 and Hedo Turkoglu had his best game against his former team thus far, finishing with 17 on 6-0f-11 and 3-of-4 from deep.
Aside from the actual result, the most satisfying part of this one had to be watching baby boy Dwight Howard bicker all night with the refs. Is there a bigger whiner in the league? No, not if you ask me. Dwight: You’re a seven-foot tall freak with about 300 pounds of muscle — you should be able to dunk every time you touch the ball and block every shot that comes within a mile of you. Shut up and play the game. Oh yeah, and it was also a lot of fun watching #15 finish with a sparkling seven-point effort.
So, a surprise win in Orlando leaves the Raptors 18-18 with a pushover in Philly set for Friday. Time to get it cooking on the road? I think so, but I’ve been thinking that for awhile. To quote my pal Tim Bentum, “Let’s see what happens!”
Jeremy Visser… Here’s some Christmas love from the daughters of former-NHLer Igor Larianov. The video, part of the NHL’s effort to raise money for cancer, features cameos from quite a few current players and more importantly, a whole lot of the Larionovs. Enjoy, fellas.
by Jeremy Visser… Doc may be gone, but he’ll never forget us, at least according to the full-page ad he took out in today’s Toronto Sun to express his gratitude to the city and its “incredible fans” (that includes you!) (well, if you’re from Toronto, that is). Hey, it’s only fitting for Halladay to go out on a classy note.
by Jeremy Visser… A month and a bit after a nightmarish 3-15 season drew to a close, the Argos have ousted Bart Andrus as head coach. Andrus, who was brought in in January after spending last year on the Tennessee Titans staff, never really seemed to know what he was doing in his one season in Toronto, managing to find ways to blow games in just about every way possible.
I spent last season covering the Argos and was around Andrus a lot. Personally, I thought he was a good guy and I liked the hard-nosed approach he took in regards to discipline. Still, tactically, the guy was completely out to lunch. A couple times late in games he seemed to have no clue what was going on — I think back to the early-season one against Winnipeg with the senseless delay of game penalty before the potential game-winning field goal and the loss to Calgary where he decided a hail mary was a better shot than a game-tying field goal that just may have been in Justin Medlock’s range. The odds were better with Medlock, for sure. Andrus didn’t blame his players for shortcomings but often stood by his decisions, meaning going in a different direction next year is probably a good choice for the Argos.
The decision to fire Andrus is the first of many changes in store for the Argos this winter — aside from now having to bring in a new coach, there are still plenty of questions regarding team ownership and a possible sale and a potential move to BMO Field for next season, though it looks like there are plenty of roadblocks in the way of that.
The Raptors may not be able to beat a strong team at home, but it’s nice to see the Leafs are getting the hang of it. Matty Stajan and Phil Kessel each had three points and Vesa Toskala made 34 saves to lead Toronto past the NHL-leading Capitals 6-3 last tonight at the ACC — their third straight win on home ice and second against Washington in three weeks.
Some dude named Alexander Ovechkin got it going with a power play goal two minutes in and Nicklas Backstrom followed to give the Caps a 2-0 lead before Toskala settled in and the top line went to work. Goals by Stajan and Kessel tied it and a power play goal by Niklas Hagman made it 3-3 through two after another by Backstrom had given Washington a 3-2 edge. Stajan’s second just over five minutes into the third was the winner, with Lee Stempniak and Alexei Ponikarovsky adding a bit of insurance late.
An impressive win, even with Washington starting backup goalie Michael Neuvirth. Toronto is getting hot at home at the right time too, with five of the next seven at the ACC, including the Sens on Monday and the Coyotes on Wednesday.
by Jeremy Visser… Now that they have this whole “winning at home” thing figured out, the remainder of the season could get a little interesting for long-suffering Leafs fans. Jason Blake scored with just over four minutes left tonight to give Toronto a 3-2 win over the Islanders at the ACC, the Leafs’ second straight home victory and seventh win overall in the past 10 games.
Blake’s winner, his fifth goal of the season, came after a pair of John Tavares power play goals wiped out a 2-0 Toronto lead through two periods. Francois Beauchemin and Ian White gave the Leafs that lead with goals in the first and Vesa Toskala took a shutout to the third for the second straight game, saving 30 of 32 shots in the end to get it done. I gotta admit, the guy is playing pretty, pretty well these days.
With the win, the Leafs bump their point total to 27 and their record to 10-13-7 (or 10-20, in the language of other sports) — still only good enough for second-last in the NHL, but now just five points out of the last postseason slot in the Eastern Conference with 52 games to play. Doable, for sure, especially with the way the boys have played the last few weeks. How about a little excitement in this city, guys?
by Jeremy Visser… Alright, now that’s a start. Hedo Turkoglu made his first big shot as a Raptor last night, nailing a tough baseline fadeaway at the shot clock horn late in overtime to give Toronto a 109-107 win in Washington, snapping a five-game skid in the process. That, after missing a three at the buzzer in regulation after one of the worst drawn-up plays out of a timeout you’ll ever see. Keep at those X’s & O’s, Jay Triano.
Anyway, Turk’s big shot saved the Raps from a near choke in OT — they led by five with the ball with just over a minute to go before a couple blown possessions and a Gilbert Arenas three evened it up. Arenas also had a shot to tie at the buzzer, but had a layup in traffic glance off the rim. In the end, Agent Zero finished with a game-high 34, though I’ll take Chris Bosh’s 31 and 16 boards and a win. Credit to CB for keeping the boys together when this one looked like it was slipping away in the fourth, and I guess thanks to Antoine Wright for not playing overly horrible to cost us the game. A true leader, that Wright is.
The big shot included, Turkoglu had one of his best nights as a Raptor, finishing with 20 on 6-of-12 with nine rebounds and two steals. Jose Calderon was efficient on his favourite end of the court, scoring 15 and adding nine assists with just one turnover. Some love to DeMar DeRozan as well — the rookie chipped in 16 on 6-of-10 in 27 minutes, his fourth double-digit outing in his last six times out.
This one runs Toronto’s record to 8-13, which remarkably is still good for second in the division and two games above the next challenger, the Iversons. The Raptors are in Chicago tonight, looking to make it two straight before coming home to face the T-Wolves on Tuesday.