Game 2 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals should have been "The DeMarre Carroll Game".
It is now common knowledge that Carroll exited Game 1 with what appeared to be a catastrophic knee injury, and even the most optimistic of pundits projected that the 28-year-old forward would miss the remainder of the Atlanta Hawks series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. By Thursday morning, however, the sentiment had quickly shifted to the point where Carroll was a shoe-in to return at some point in the series, though most expected that a Game 2 reappearance was nowhere near the cards.
Naturally, DeMarre Carroll did the unthinkable.
Carroll put himself through a workout in the moments before game time, gaining approval from his doctor, his agent and his head coach in order to take part in Game 2.
This was unthinkable.
Just 48 hours earlier, Carroll looked to be a player who would miss a calendar year if any structural damage was found, and his guttural cries of pain following the injury incident served as a keen reminder of an apparently bleak fate. Still, here was Carroll, the Junkyard Dog, scrapping and clawing his way toward the floor with only the medical approval of others in his way.
Game 2 should have been his "Willis Reed" moment.
Obviously, that Reed appearance marked the triumph of an NBA Championship for the New York Knicks, and as such, this was technically on a smaller stage. However, DeMarre Carroll did more than simply appear out of the tunnel for a brief moment of glory in Game 2. All he did was lead the team in minutes.
Carroll was visibly and clearly limited by the knee ailment, but he battled for nearly 34 minutes of clock time while attempting to pester the best player in the universe in LeBron James. There were no excuses. There were no hand-raises to ask out of the game. It was simply one player giving it absolutely everything he had.
By now, you undoubtedly realize that the Atlanta Hawks floundered in a big way in Game 2, falling by a final score of 94-82 that wasn't indicative of the woeful nature of their performance. That collective showing will mask what should have been a legendary effort from DeMarre Carroll.
"I wouldn't have turned this opportunity down for the world. I would have went out there with one leg because, at the end of the day, it's about the team. It's not about myself. We worked too hard for me to just give up like that."
Those are the words of Carroll in the post-game, and true to form, he placed the team and this opportunity above all else, including the clear opportunity to preserve his own health in search of a massive payday this summer.
DeMarre Carroll deserved better than what he got on Friday night, and hopefully, fans of the Atlanta Hawks will remember this night for what it should have been for him in place of what was a maddening evening for the team as a whole.