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Carter Delivers Against Clippers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They came in droves to see him.

Young girls proudly wore Toronto No. 15 jerseys and cheered when he smiled. Old men sat together and nudged each other with every simple move he made. Even “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, sat courtside in anticipation of something great.

The excitement they came to see, however, didn’t come until late and the Toronto Raptors’ Vince Carter made sure their wait was worth it.

Carter stole a rare victory from the Clippers with a three-point basket at the buzzer to give Toronto a 95-94 victory Wednesday night before 18,176 at Staples Center.

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“When you win the slam-dunk contest, people want to see you,” said Carter, who struggled early but scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. “It was pretty loud out there but the most important thing was for us to win the game. . . . It’s not all about dunking.”

The Clippers, who gave up 61 points to Shaquille O’Neal in a loss to the Lakers on Monday, appeared to have only their fourth win over their last 34 games when rookie Lamar Odom made two free throws to put them ahead, 94-92, with 1.5 seconds left after being fouled above the three-point line by Carter.

But following a Raptor timeout, Carter made the the most of his chance to be a hero, thanks to a defensive lapse by the Clippers.

Tracy McGrady inbounded the ball from halfcourt for Toronto to Carter, who appeared surprised to be so open above the right side of the three-point line. The Clippers were in a zone defense and Tyrone Nesby was closest to Carter before the inbounds pass but left him to cover McGrady once the ball was thrown in. Odom, who was under the basket, made a late effort to stop Carter but it was too late . . . nothing but net.

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“I was trying to find the open area because the area I was designed to go to was covered with two guys there who were sagging,” said Carter, who also won a game at Boston with a buzzer-beating three-point basket last week. “As soon as I turned around, nobody was there so I quickly tried to get it off.”

Defensively, the Clippers were confused on the final play. Interim Coach Jim Todd even called a timeout after Toronto did because he knew his players were not sure how they were going to defend it.

“We tried to switch everything so we could stop the lob inside,” Todd said. “We were going to switch any screens, any cross screens.”

But the Clippers obviously didn’t understand.

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“It’s so hard to explain that last shot,” Nesby said. “To be honest, a zone is designed to give up a shot like that. . . . Everybody didn’t want to be in a zone but we stayed in it and he got an open shot and made it.”

Carter didn’t complain.

“I didn’t know what they were doing,” said Carter after the Raptors’ seventh consecutive victory and fifth in a row on the road. “I knew [Nesby] was on my left side and I figured he was going there for a reason because he had somebody else behind me.”

Toronto started Wednesday as the second-hottest team in the NBA behind the Lakers. The Raptors had won six in a row--four on the road, including a victory at Portland two nights earlier.

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A hot-shooting Carter was the main reason behind the Raptors recent success. Carter, fifth in the NBA in scoring at 25.6 points a game, averaged 33 points in Toronto’s win streak.

But behind the defense of Nesby, the Clippers had Carter’s number from the start. He missed seven of his first eight shots and had only nine points heading into the final quarter.

The Clippers, who led by eight points at halftime, extended their lead to 14 points early in the fourth before Toronto made a late charge.

After leading 86-72 with nine minutes left, the Clippers were only ahead 90-84 when Carter made his only dunk of the game, a powerful one-hand alley-oop slam off a pass from Dee Brown with 3:29 remaining.

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The Raptors tied the game at 92 when Carter made a jump shot with 51 seconds left, setting the stage for the dramatic final plays.

*

TRAIL BLAZERS LOSE

Struggling Portland falls 3 1/2 games behind the Lakers with a 115-103 setback at New Jersey. Page 6

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* RODMAN RELEASED

The Dallas Mavericks release rebounding star Dennis Rodman only 29 days after signing him. Page 6


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