Rafer Alston Skips to Relevance

David BurnettCorrespondent IJune 10, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 09:  Rafer Alston #1 of the Orlando Magic reacts in the third quarter in Game Three of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on June 9, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

I had just about written him off as another playground punk, but I’m glad that at least for one game, the man known on asphalt courts as "Skip to My Lou," was the main catalyst for his team.  It was good to see Rafer Alston turn things around.

Alston played an outstanding game Tuesday night in the Orlando Magic’s Game Three win against the Los Angeles Lakers when his team absolutely needed him most.  

Alston’s success—20 points and four assists—will go a long way toward rebuilding a rapidly fading reputation that had suffered greatly from his actions and his play during the first two games of the series.

Like many people who are following the NBA Finals, and cheering for Orlando, I was down big-time on Alston.  Alston seemed to pout like a child when he sat the bench, while the previously injured starter and all-star, Jameer Nelson, returned to the lineup for long stretches of Game One. 

Game Two wasn’t much better either.  Alston didn’t appear to have his head in the game, playing inconsistently and badly missing shots.   It could be that he was selfishly thinking about playing time rather than helping the team.

Alston has never been someone teams depended on, or trusted.  He has bounced around a lot during his ten years in the NBA.  This year he moved on to Orlando at mid-season in a trade with the Houston Rockets.

Honestly, I never thought much of Alston or his game.  Quite frankly, I’m biased against playground-style players.   Many of them seem to be “me-first” guys who don’t care about team play and in some cases don’t even care whether they actually win the game.

Alston’s apparent attitude—I say apparent, because it's based solely on the interviews I watched, and his body language on the bench, and on the court—suggested he was exactly like the stereotype that I described.  But something seemed to change for Alston Tuesday night. 

Maybe it was playing in familiar surroundings at home.  Maybe it was the frustration from all the criticism he’s gotten lately.  But Tuesday night the light clicked on for Alston.   His inspired play early in the game, his leadership, and shot-making set just the right tempo and tone for the Magic, who would go on to set an NBA Finals record for field goal shooting percentage.   Alston also, thank goodness, said all the right things when he was interviewed during and after the game.

The thing about watching championship series, particularly the NBA, is that if you are lucky, you get to watch the team you follow evolve, grow, get better, and hopefully win.  And other times you get to witness miraculous and sometimes game changing plays. 

But if you are really fortunate, you literally witness a player grow into maturity.  From all appearances, Tuesday was Alston’s night to finally grow up.

And it looks like he has finally skipped into NBA relevance at just the right time.

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