Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers survived a close contest in The Palace of Auburn Hills against the Pistons on Sunday. I was there enjoying the game and documenting my thoughts as the contest unfolded.
Yesterday I took my wife and three-year-old son to the Lakers-Pistons game (his first). My wife and I were both born and raised in Southern California and attended quite a few games over the years. Three years ago, however, we moved across the country and settled down in Michigan. The combination of a young child and the Lakers making only a few visits to the Midwest has prevented us from attending games. This weekend we attended our first game as a family. Here is my running diary of random thoughts as I watched the game from 15 rows behind the Pistons bench.
20 minutes before tipoff – We make our way to our seats and it appears that 80% of the crowd in the lower bowl is wearing purple and gold. I know Detroit isn’t a good team and the Lakers travel very well, but seriously…this is ridiculous. I almost feel bad for Detroit. Then I think about 2004 and I am over it. I know 2004 was a long time ago and with the recent trading of Prince not a single Piston remains from that 2004 team, but if Kobe can still harness anger against Phoenix for those playoff beatings, I can still carry a grudge against Detroit.
10 minutes before tipoff – I get a text from my manager at work. He wants to bet me lunch on the game. I gladly accept. The Lakers couldn’t lose to the Pistons, right. Right?!?!
5 minutes before tipoff – Game is about to get underway. My wife suggests that if we want some food then I should go now. I get up and run to the concession stand. When I return I find out that our section had a server and I never needed to leave my seat. Good information I wish I would have had a few minutes earlier.
Tip-off – Dwight Howard isn’t on the court so he must not be playing tonight. Detroit doesn’t have much going for them but they do have a good combination inside with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Unless Pau Gasol plays all 48 minutes, it will be interesting to see if Mike D’Antoni plays Robert Sacre or goes with the super-small no-center line-up.
1st Qtr 10:26 – Pau sinks a small baseline fade-away jumper over Monroe. He looks good so far. Definitely a good sign that effective black-swan Pau will probably show up.
1st Qtr 9:30 – My manager texts me back saying he didn’t know Jose Calderon wouldn’t be playing. Apparently he saw highlights of Calderon destroying the Lakers a few weeks ago and figured he could bet on more of the same. I tell him he can cancel the bet if he wants but he says he’s a man of his word and keeps the bet in place.
1st Qtr 8:52 – Kyle Singler hits a three. The Pistons cheerleaders start throwing T-shirts into the crowd. Apparently they do this after every three. My son wants one. No luck this time but hopefully we will get one before the day is done.
1st Qtr 8:25 – Jason Maxiell scores on an uncontested dunk as Metta World Peace left him to help on Rodney Stuckey after Kobe got caught up on a screen. That is two plays already where Kobe didn’t seem to want to fight hard to get through screens. Both plays resulted in Piston’s baskets. The Pistons have already run this same play a couple of times where the two wings cut across the baseline in opposite directions. The point guard is trying to read which defender gets caught up on the double cross screens. I swear that Brandon Knight looked at Stuckey (Kobe's man) the entire way, never even glancing the other direction. Teams are well aware that Kobe is a 50/50 bet to fight through one screen playing off the ball. Set up two screens and he simply gives up and yells at a teammate to help, as was the case on this play.
1st Qtr 4:39 – Kobe dribbles out the last 13 seconds of the shot clock and gets himself trapped. Stuckey bails him out with a stupid foul with less than one second on the shot clock. It’s Stuckey’s third foul and he’s given a technical foul for complaining on the way to the bench. Not a good sequence by Stuckey there.
1st Qtr 3:54 – Jamison scores a lay-up on a great cut down the lane and beautiful feed from Gasol. These two seem to work well together offensively. Lakers are up 23-15. Great start for a team that seems to struggle getting out of bed and ready to play these early Eastern Time zone games.
1st Qtr 0:45 – Jonas Jerebko hits a three. Here come the T-shirts again and this time I get one. T-shirt is white with "Detroit Basketball" in black letters on the front. My son asks to put it on but it is an adult small… a little big for a 3 year old. Besides, he isn’t allowed to wear Pistons gear. Since he can’t read yet I’ll let his request slide for now. I’ll have to give it to a Pistons fan (I know a few).
End of 1st Qtr – Lakers up 32-27 after one. Good start offensively but defense needs a little work. Earl Clark has been pretty impressive so far with 9 points including a three plus a block. Also, as the crowd has filled in, the ratio of Lakers and Pistons fans evened out considerably. My wife thinks there are more Pistons fans. I think it’s pretty close to 50/50, at least in the lower sections.
2nd Qtr 11:02 – Lakers start the 2nd with Gasol on the bench and go super small with no centers. Lakers front line is Metta, Clark, and Jamison. It’s a stark contrast with Detroit who has both Monroe and Drummond on the floor, not to mention Jerebko as well. That’s three players 6’10" or taller. Add in Singler (6’8") at the shooting guard spot and this is a big Detroit line-up. They quickly rattle off a 6-0 run with everything coming at rim. Lakers call time-out.
2nd Qtr 9:37 – Pau Gasol finally returns. Detroit was getting shots right at the rim against the Lakers small ball unit. No Laker had enough size to keep the two Detroit centers away from the rim.
2nd Qtr 8:40 – During a timeout the Pistons drop small pizza boxes from the rafters via tiny parachutes. If you catch one of the boxes you can exchange it for a small pizza. Pretty cool idea. My son thought it was awesome and wanted me to catch one but none came near us. I wish the Lakers did more things like this at their games.
2nd Qtr 6:57 – Will Bynum drives to the rim again and finishes the lay-up. I think that might be four straight possessions he penetrated the Lakers defense and got inside for the shot. It doesn’t look like Nash or Blake can stay in front of the quick point guard. Perhaps the foul trouble for Stuckey was the best thing to happen to Detroit?
2nd Qtr 3:52 – Charlie Villanueva misses his third post-up opportunity in the last 3 minutes. The first two came with Jamison guarding him. I can see the logic there. Why not attack one of the worst defensive players in the league. Unfortunately no one told Charlie that he has one of the worst post games in the league. It's kind of like the opposite of the unstoppable-force-meets-immovable-object question. The last attempt however was against Metta. Clearly not what the Pistons wanted. The girl sitting to my right said, "Stop shooting Charlie"… that’s the first words I have heard from her all game and she is telling Villanueva to stop. Clearly his offense isn’t working.
2nd Qtr 2:00 – Bynum with yet another basket in the middle of the paint. Without Howard the opposition has no fear when it comes to taking the ball to the rim. Gasol is a solid post defender but he isn’t a great help defender or shot blocker. Bynum is just the latest in an ever growing list of opposing point guards to go off on the Lakers.
2nd Qtr 1:47 – Metta gets tangled up with Brandon Knight. Immediately the crowd stands up as the thoughts of the Malice in the Palace hits everyone’s mind. It looked like either an elbow or potentially a punch might have been thrown though it's tough to see as it was at the opposite end of the court from where I am sitting. My cell phone begins to vibrate. Before the game began my brother-in-law texted me and said, "If Metta takes off into the crowd please protect my sister and god-son." This latest text is from him and it simply reads, "Quick grab Cynthia and Anthony".
As the refs go to the tape to decide what call should be made against Metta, the Pistons begin playing Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise throughout the arena. At first I thought what an interesting choice of songs for Mr. World Peace. Then I realize the song is really just an advertisement for the upcoming half time show: Coolio. Yes, Coolio is in the house and will be performing. The Grammy award-winning rapper is now doing half time shows for the Pistons. I almost feel bad for him… and then they cut to a shot of him and I see his hair. Let's just call it a self-inflicted wound and move on.
2nd Qtr 0:16 – Clark with a great hustle steal and save to Metta who throws it ahead quickly to Kobe who proceeds to advance it to Gasol for an open fast break dunk. Lakers hit the 60 point threshold in the first half and stretch the lead to 9.
2nd Qtr 0.4 – The Pistons can't inbound the ball well as they fumble it into the backcourt for a violation. Lakers will get one last shot with only 0.4 seconds on the clock. Where is Derek Fisher when you need him? Kobe throws a perfect lob pass to a back-cutting Earl Clark for a highlight dunk. If the Superbowl weren’t being played later tonight, this would be Sportcenter’s #1 play of the day. Lakers up 11 at the half.
Half-time – Coolio takes the floor and performs "Fantastic Voyage" and "1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)". What, no "Gangsta’s Paradise"? How can you not perform the only song that the majority of people associate you with? The Coolio bar wasn’t set very high, and yet he still didn’t clear it.
3rd Qtr 9:06 – Kobe tips a pass and Earl Clark gathers it. Kobe sprints ahead, catches a pass from Clark, and throws down a huge one-handed slam over Knight. Even Pistons fans were impressed. Building is buzzing on that one. Lakers up 14, time-out Detroit. This game is starting to slip away from Detroit. I am hoping for a blowout so that Darius Morris can get some time on the court since he played his college ball only an hour from here.
3rd Qtr 8:20 – My son asks me who I am cheering for. I respond with, "The Lakers of course… the guys in purple." He replies, "I am cheering for the white guys." This is absolutely inexcusable even for a three year old. I reach into my pocket and pull out a bag of Skittles and ask him if he wants any. His face lights up as he shakes his head yes. "If you want some, then you need to cheer on the Lakers, OK?" He says OK and I give him some Skittles. Cheering for the Lakers is reinforced through rewards. Crisis averted. Now back to the game.
3rd Qtr 7:21 – Kobe proceeds to dribble about 15 seconds off the shot clock and then kicks the ball out to a wide open World Peace but the pass is low and the defense recovers. Gasol assumed MWP would shoot and thus never vacated the key resulting in a three-second violation. Kobe yells at Metta to "shoot the f***ing ball". Metta doesn’t take it and instead yells back to Kobe to pass the ball to his hands and not his ankles so he can catch and shoot. Kobe’s clearly pissed, but also knows that Metta is right. Metta wouldn’t have hesitated to pull the trigger had the pass been anywhere close to his hands. It's nice to see another player bark back at Kobe when it's warranted.
3rd Qtr 5:30 – Refs call an offensive foul on Maxiell for pushing Metta while battling for a rebound. On the previous possession, Maxiell pushed Metta out of bounds while fighting for rebounding position. After that, Metta kindly told the ref to watch it on the way back up the floor. Ref was all over it this time and made the call. Not sure the ref would have called that had Metta not brought it to his attention on the previous possession.
3rd Qtr 1:40 – Kobe brings the ball up and dribbles and probes for 20 seconds before going one on three inside and gets blocked. He stops and screams for foul while the play goes the other way. Pistons score and Kobe never gets back across the half court line. Pistons are only down 8.
3rd Qtr 1:15 – Steve Blake pulls a Kobe and dribbles into trouble, forces a shot and looks for a foul. Pistons race the other way and get a dunk by Drummond while Steve lags far behind the play. Pistons down only 6. Time out Lakers. P. Diddy’s "Bad Boy for Life" comes blaring over the arena PA with the line, "We ain’t going nowhere" being repeated. They're right. These Pistons aren’t going anywhere. Lakers have let them right back into this game.
Before 4th quarter – The entertainment between the 3rd and 4th quarter are a group of trampoline dunkers. They miss the first three dunks. Sorry guys, you can’t miss the first 3 dunks if your entire set is only 6 dunks. They do make the remaining dunks, the last one being quite impressive, which means I get $1 off Dunkin' Donuts for being in the lower level.
4th Qtr 6:52 – Charlie Villanueva hits a big three. It is now a three-point game. Bynum is killing the Lakers. When he isn’t finishing at the rim he is throwing lobs to Drummond or penetrating and kicking to guys like Villanueva. If the Lakers are going to win this game they need to find an answer for Bynum.
4th Qtr 6:32 – Pistons aggressively trap the screen for Nash. Gasol is the safety outlet pass, but just as Nash throws it, Drummond jumps the lane and takes it the other way, feeding Knight for a dunk. Nash has struggled this year with hard traps (see Miami game). When the opposition can bring a hard trap with size and then use a third defender to deny the release pass to Gasol, the Lakers usually turn it over. Nash can’t let himself get into that type of position. This is one area where Kobe's size allows him to see and go over these traps whereas Nash can't.
4th Qtr 5:43 – In semi-transition Will Bynum attacks Nash and gets to the rim for a lay-up and a foul. He has the potential to tie the game but misses the ensuing free throw. Lakers must figure out how to stop Bynum from single-handedly winning this game for Detroit.
4th Qtr 5:22 – Interesting defensive switch. D’Antoni puts Clark on Bynum. Bynum penetrates but can’t finish. The next time down the Pistons coach, Lawrence Frank, quickly calls time-out. Let the chess match begin.
4th Qtr 4:35 – Bynum penetrates and runs into a wall of Clark and Gasol. He kicks out to Villanueva who is open after Metta needlessly collapsed into the paint. Villanueva hits the three and we are tied with four minutes to play. Cheerleaders are launching T-shirts again and this time my wife gets one.
So the Lakers were up 18 at one point and are once again in a dog fight at the end. The Lakers keep giving up large leads even against bad teams. Note to self: Take Anthony's college fund and bet it on the Lakers covering the first half next game. Then parlay the winnings into a bet for the opposition to cover the second half. Repeat a few times and then retire at age 30. Seriously, they do this enough times that it might be a viable strategy.
4th Qtr 3:44 – After a Gasol jump shot to reclaim the lead, Clark pokes the ball off of Bynum forcing the turnover. Best defensive possession against Bynum in the second half. The switch to Clark looks to be paying off.
4th Qtr 2:41 – After feeling good about Clark’s defense, Bynum drives again and this time draws Gasol and Clark to him and dishes to Drummond for the Dunk. Gasol shouldn’t have rotated and stayed with his man. Clark was still in the play and could have contested the lay-up with his size and athleticism. Make him make that difficult shot rather than giving Drummond an easy dunk.
4th Qtr 1:40 – Kobe goes into isolation on Singler and settles for a 20 foot contested jump shot. Airball! Singler has a few inches on Kobe and all game long Kobe has struggled to shoot over him. Kobe has been able to beat him off the dribble so settling for a long jumper is not a good decision.
4th Qtr 1:20 – Kobe’s angry about the missed jumper and clears the defensive rebound with a vengeance. He looks more than a little pissed off and attacks the basket and finishes with a foul. He sinks the free throw and Lakers are up three. Lakers need more of this Kobe Bryant.
4th Qtr 1:00 – Will Bynum attacks the rim again and this time Gasol stays with Drummond while Clark recovers to contest Bynum. He makes it anyway. Lakers just can’t stop Bynum tonight no matter who they put on him. He has 18 points and 10 assists off the bench.
4th Qtr 0:17 – Clark clears the defensive rebound and the Lakers get a crucial stop. Lakers up one with 17 seconds to play. Clark is going to the line for two. Make your free throws and don’t give up a three and the Lakers escape with a win…. He missed both! Clark has been such a blessing this year and has done so many things right for L.A. I feel bad for the kid after those misses. He will need to shake it off and defend Bynum one more time.
4th Qtr 0:03 – Bynum gets away with what appears to be a back-court violation. D’Antoni is furious and Bennett Salvatore emphatically tells him to knock it off and that he isn’t going to get the call. Kobe is now defending Bynum and he still gets to the rim and almost finished a high floating lay-up over Gasol. Lakers dodge a huge bullet. Nash collects the rebound and is fouled.
Nash just needs to hit both free throws and worst the Lakers could do is overtime. He missed the first! A 95% free throw shooter on the season missed. Oh my, he missed the second?!?! Did I just see that? The greatest free throw shooter in league history missed both free throws? Wow. Lakers need a stop now with 1.2 seconds left.
4th Qtr 1.2 – Detroit tries a lob to Drummond and Gasol gets just enough of the
ball body to break up the play. Lakers win! What great team defense on that final play. Kobe chased Bynum around and denied him the ball. Nash chased Knight and denied him. Metta prevented the pass to Villanueva. The only thing left was the lob and had Drummond got both hands up and on the ball he would have converted. Gasol backed into him enough that he only got one arm up and couldn’t convert.
What a great game to attend live. It was my son’s first game. We caught a couple of T-shirts. The Lakers won and my manager owes me lunch, a perfect way to enjoy a Sunday. Now it’s time to hit the road, drive through the falling snow, and be home in time to watch the Superbowl.