Carter criticized after loss

Aaron McKie slashed past Vince Carter, caught a backdoor pass from Allen Iverson and scored an easy basket.

Antonio Davis slammed the ball in frustration.

Too tired from a hectic day of travel?

Carter left himself open to intense scrutiny and heavy criticism by attending graduation ceremonies at North Carolina before Sunday's Game 7 of the Raptors' playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He could've silenced the critics with another one of his stellar performances.

Instead, Carter looked nothing like the player who torched the Sixers for 39 points in Game 6 Friday night.

In the biggest game of his career, Carter had 20 points on 6-for-18 shooting as Philadelphia eliminated the Raptors and advanced to the Eastern Conference final with an 88-87 victory.

"I survived, I was there, I played, did what I needed to do," Carter said. "It all came down to one shot.

"It could've been a great day or a terrible day. I don't let what people say, I don't let people's opinions hold me down.

"I don't let it bother me."

Carter missed a desperation jumper from just inside the three-point line that would've given the Raptors a win at the buzzer.

He put his head down, got a consolation pat from a teammate and walked off the court.

"It's a game, you make shots and you miss shots," said Carter's mother, Michelle. "He missed it.

"People who want to blame a graduation on losing a game, that's a scapegoat. Graduations don't win or lose games.

"Shooting, rebounding, turning over the ball at the wrong time -- that will lose a game for you."

Jet lag may not have affected Carter as much as a swarming defence.

He constantly had a hand or two in his face, often passed up shots and finished with nine assists.

"I admit, the first two minutes, I was a little winded," Carter said. "I was trying too hard early.

"I was tiring myself out."

Carter missed his first three shots, including two jumpers, before following his third miss with a tip-in.

He was 3-for-7 in the first quarter

. He only scored three points -- all on free throws -- in the second.

In Toronto's three victories, Carter averaged 41.3 points, including a 50-point outburst in Game 3.

He scored 22.3 in the four losses.

"It was the same old Vince," said Sixers forward Rodney Buford. "If he makes the last shot, it would've been a different story."

In the second half, Carter made a few clutch baskets, keeping the Raptors in the game.

Isolated against McKie late in the third, he drove to the basket, got fouled, scored the layup and sank the free throw, giving Toronto its first lead, 65-64, since the opening minutes.

But the Sixers quickly reclaimed the lead and Carter missed his next two shots -- a three-pointer and a running eight-footer.

With the Raptors trailing 82-78 and just under five minutes left, Carter missed a three-pointer.

He made two free throws after Davis got the rebound, but didn't score again.

Carter, who left school for the NBA after his junior year in 1998, completed his final correspondence course this summer and earned his degree in Afro-American studies.

He was recognized with the rest of North Carolina's Class of 2001, left the ceremonies early to catch a flight to Philadelphia and arrived at Toronto's hotel in time to attend a pre-game meeting at noon.

On Saturday, Carter travelled to North Carolina on team owner Larry Tanenbaum's private plane.

Carter arrived on campus about 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

After signing autographs and taking pictures outside the ceremony at Kenan Stadium, he walked out with the rest of the students.

Coach Lenny Wilkens warned Carter about the possible criticism if he played poorly in Game 7.

Davis and Chris Childs issued terse no comments when asked about Carter's plans, although other teammates said they had no problem.

"I'm not the right person to answer that," Childs said when asked after the game if Carter's long day affected his play.

Carter did not actually get his diploma Sunday.

North Carolina undergraduates do not receive them during graduation ceremonies and Carter will receive his in the mail, university spokeswoman Karen Moon said.

By Rob Maaddi