- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Charles Oakley lit a fire in Vince Carter's mother.

With his Toronto Raptors facing elimination by the New York Knicks last week, Oakley publicly challenged Carter to lead by example, earn his superstar salary and carry the team into the next round of the playoffs.

Enter Mrs. Carter.

It was Oakley who needed to hit more shots, Michelle Carter said on national television, not her son.

"It's not the way it used to be," Oakley said. "I've been around 16 years and never seen anything like it [a player's mother coming to his defense]… . I don't have a beef with her. I guess she has a beef with me."

The power forward's beef, in fact, was with Vince, and he made his complaint known in his typically blunt fashion.

"This is the time of year you have to step it up and be a man about it, you know?" Oakley said of Carter after the Raptors' Game 3 loss. "When they made the Dream Team, he went. All 12 of us didn't go. When they do commercials, he goes. We don't go."

Carter averaged 18 points on 31 percent shooting in the first three games of the Knicks series.

After Oakley's none-too-subtle prodding, Carter scored 32 in Game 4 and 27 in Game 5 on Friday as the Raptors ousted New York at Madison Square Garden the first playoff series victory in franchise history.

Forty-eight hours later, Carter scored 35 points and outplayed Allen Iverson as the Raptors stunned the Philadelphia 76ers 96-93 on Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Raptors and 76ers, the top seed in the East, meet again tonight in Game 2 in Philadelphia.

In the three games since Oakley ripped into him, all Toronto victories, Carter scored 94 points and shot 47 percent from the field.

Carter, a free agent next summer, has yet to commit to returning to Toronto, but he did not respond negatively to Oakley's comments.

"I'd rather they continue to criticize because I don't want them to jump on my bandwagon now," Carter said Monday. "They had so much to say, but now when you do well, they say he's capable of doing that. We've known that all along."

So, no hard feelings?

"I love it," Carter said. "What am I supposed to do? Hide from him? That's his way of telling me, 'We're behind you.' I know that's his way of telling me, 'Hey, bring it tonight.' I know how Oak is."

A bit bizarre? Perhaps.

Oakley has drawn more attention this season for his words than his numbers (9.6 points and 9.5 rebounds during the regular season).

He has been suspended twice, once for punching Los Angeles Clippers guard Jeff McInnis in the head and once for hitting 76ers forward Tyrone Hill in the head with a basketball at a morning shootaround.

The McInnis incident reportedly was over a woman, and the Hill incident was over a gambling debt owed to Oakely.

Carter is not the first such player that Oakley has gone after. When he was with the Knicks, New York coach Jeff Van Gundy remembers Oakley trying to light a similar fire under former Knicks Patrick Ewing and John Starks.

"I don't think it had any negative impact," Van Gundy said. "I think it's more important how guys play. Oakley always came ready to play. That's the main thing."

Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens agrees.

"I think that Charles' heart was in the right place," Wilkens said. "How he says it sometimes is a little difficult, but Vince is a great player. Charles wants him to step up and be ready. So what he wants is to kind of motivate him a little. I don't think Vince is taking it personally."

With a chance to take a commanding lead over the 76ers, the Raptors will need another big performance from Carter tonight. Carter seems relaxed and ready to deliver.

"Everybody has bad days, everybody has a bad night shooting, playing, whatever," Carter said. "I'm not mad. Everybody's here, everybody's together, everybody's ready to play. We just have to go out there and get it done."

The Raptors did that on Sunday.

Reserve guard Dell Curry scored 20 points, hitting consistently from the outside and forcing the 76ers to play Carter 1-on-1.

Alvin Williams scored 15 points and Oakley 13. Meanwhile, the Sixers struggled to get production from anyone other than Iverson, who had 36 points. The other four starters combined for 37 points.

The Raptors have reason to be upbeat: They won four of five games against Philadelphia this season, including two straight at the First Union Center.

"I think it was the same Philly team we saw throughout the year," Curry said. "It was Iverson early, middle and late and everyone keying off that. You have to give us credit. We played well in a hostile environment."

Even Oakley seemed satisfied with the victory in Philadelphia.

"It was a great win," Oakley said. "Some people probably felt we'd come in lackadaisical, with emotions from the Knicks game, but I think the team really came prepared."

• This article based in part on wire service reports.

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