No one has to tell Jalen Rose how the NBA really works. He's been around. This is his 12th season and he's been to an NBA Finals and he's been on a team that has begun the season with nine straight losses.
He knows that if you're on a team going to the NBA Finals, you're more than likely to get the call he didn't get last night, a call he should have gotten and a call that might have enabled the young Raptors to record their first victory of the season. He didn't get the call, the Celtics went on to register a 100-93 victory, and all Rose could do was shrug his shoulders in the locker room.
The sequence was this: The Celtics had seen an 87-80 lead sliced to 90-89 when Ricky Davis's rifle pass ended up in the hands of Charlie Villanueva with 1:39 left. The ball was forwarded to the breaking Rose, who went to the basket among a trio of Celtics, at least two of whom appeared to, um, draw contact. Rose hit the floor, hard, but all referees Joey Crawford, Kevin Fehr, and Tony Brothers saw was a blocked shot by Raef LaFrentz.
Instead of getting 2 points and the lead Rose is an excellent free throw shooter the Raptors came away with nothing. The Celtics then put the game away, scoring 8 of the next 9 points. But at that point, when Rose was going in for what he thought would at least be two free throws, the momentum had clearly swung to Toronto. In a close game, the Raptors' bench players were standing. The Celtics' bench players were sitting. The fans were antsy.
When Rose went down, Toronto coach Sam Mitchell went ballistic. He was all the way to half court wondering why there was no call on the play. Rose rose from the floor in utter disbelief. Requests for an explanation drew no satisfaction. If nothing else, he felt his years of NBA service entitled him to the call, not to mention, as he put it, "that a foul is still a foul no matter who is playing."
Afterward, Mitchell mentioned "we got some tough calls against us" but, when queried specifically about the Rose play, issued a terse "no comment." If you know Mitchell, those are two words that rarely cross his lips. Then, he added almost in exasperation, "What do you want me to say?"
Rose did not duck the issue.
"I thought I did a good job of not only going strong, but trying to draw contact, because I was trying to get a 3-point play," he said. "Unfortunately, I didn't get the call. So, to the victors go the spoils. When you're not winning, people can say what they want, but you don't get the breaks. We can't look for anybody to give us anything at this point, not the referees, not anybody. We've just got to find a way to get a victory and play four good quarters, and it hasn't happened."
He's right, of course. While the noncall was a definite momentum swinger, it's hard to put the outcome of a close game on one missed call. Mostly, however, it's the NBA being the NBA. "That's the league," said Toronto veteran Eric Williams. "That's the way it works." Added Rose, "On a play like that, you lose more than the free throws. You lose things you can't get back."
No Toronto team, not even the original expansion assemblage of 1995-96 or the dreadful 1997-98 team, which won only 16 games, started 0-9. (The 1997-98 team did, however, lose 19 of its first 20, including 17 in a row.) This year's team has had chances in each of its last four games, including an overtime loss to Seattle and two close losses to Philadelphia. As Concord, N.H., ace Matt Bonner put it, "Off the court, it's going great!"
But when the losses accumulate, so do the excuses. It can become difficult to keep a team from fracturing. No one is suggesting the Raptors are a threat to unseat the Spurs. But 0-9?
"It really tests your character, tests your spirit," Rose said. "It is definitely a test for a young team. It's hard, but you've got to keep fighting. You've got to know it can't get any worse and hope better days are coming."
Uh, Jalen? The Miami Heat will be at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow followed by a four-game Western swing. So, um, yeah, it actually can get worse and better days may not be coming, at least not in the next week or so.
"It's disappointing, because we've had some flashes of good play," Rose went on. "But that doesn't matter in this league. I take it a little bit more personally because there are a lot of plays I feel I could be making that I'm not making for whatever reason, whether it's a shot I feel I should be knocking down or creating a play. These are things I've doing my whole life."
Then, he added, "It wouldn't mean as much to me if I was having the best nine games of my career and we were 0-9."