NBA games are fun!!!!
That's what I found out tonight, as I donned my Utah Jazz gear and took off for the Palace of Auburn hills with my stepdad, Ken, the man who had so graciously got me two center court tickets for Christmas. Ken is a pretty big Pistons fan, but not in the hateful sense. It was a great present and I was anxious to see my first NBA game in 10-15 years (I saw the Magic-Hawks game many years ago but don't really remember it).
Before the game
When we got to the arena it was about an hour before tip-off. I had brought a Sharpie and a few notecards - I didn't have any really good Jazz memorabilia other than my AK47 jersey and Utah Jazz warmup sweater-hoodie, and I wasn't sure I wanted those signed. I wasn't sure if an hour early was enough time to get autographs, but as it was the earliest Ken's work schedule allowed us to get there, I wasn't about to give up not trying. I found the Jazz tunnel shortly after finding our seats. The only players I saw working out doing shootaround were John Lucas III, Marvin Williams, and Jeremy Evans. Marvin had gone in by the time I got down to the tunnel, but the prospect of getting an autograph by Evans was something I found myself getting almost childlike in excitement for. Still, I tempered my expectations and joined the people looking for autographs.
MAN. There were #3 jerseys Everywhere. Most of them Michigan Wolverine #3, but not all! There were more than a handful of Utah Jazz #3 Trey Burks jerseys in the stands, which was pretty cool. I'm used to seeing Miami Heat or Thunder jerseys being worn by people I know. It was quite exciting to see people actually getting excited about the Utah Jazz, my Utah Jazz, in Detroit, a city you might not normally expect.
Finally, Jeremy Evans came over. I waited with some baited breath while he signed for the other side. It was taking a while, but Jeremy was patiently signing anything that was handed to him. "That's Jeremy Evans", I said proudly to the Pistons fan next to me who had already collected Trey's John Hancock and was done with autographs. "NBA Slam Dunk Champion. And fellow Arkansan." Since Ronnie Brewer had left, the Jazz had been left without a fellow Arkansan to root on - until Jeremy made the team. He shrugged and I asked to step by him to within range of Evans, who turned and came to sign autographs on my side of the aisle.
Remembering what Amar had told me before the game, I hung my arms down a little bit. At first, Evans started signing things between me and the tunnel where he was no doubt headed, and I became worried that he might skip over me. I thought back to my first professional sports experience, Buffalo Bills training camp in 1996. I, a boy of 11, had been waiting to get Jim Kelly's autograph and was drowned out by the crowds. I was going to miss out when my grandfather stepped forward and called, "Hey, this little boy came all the way from Arkansas to see the Bills". Kelly, on his golf cart, heard my grandfather, and stopped to sign my paper before leaving.
Thinking about that experience, I called out, "Jeremy!", and #40 stopped and headed back my way. "I've come from Arkansas to see you guys play" I said. As he signed my program, he asked what point (what town)? I was a little starstruck, but managed to get out "Conway". Jeremy nodded and continued signing others' autographs (he was a little busy and wanted to get in). I ran back to my seat. I didn't really want John Lucas' autograph.
I tried to get Twitpic set up to take several pictures and videos. While I had been able to set it up previously this afternoon, upon entering the Palace, the app decided to crash constantly. This was a little bit disappointing, but oh well, I was not going to let it distract me from enjoying myself. I brought up Twitter and dug in.
I ended up using the notecards I'd brought for autographs to take quick bullet notes on things I noticed during the game. Let me say that being at the game made me feel MUCH less like a casual observer and more like someone with authority over what they were watching. Things were much crisper in person. I have a new appreciation for Amar, moni, Shums, etc. for their daily dose of experienced commentary. I'd always felt like I didn't have as much in-depth or insightful commentary to contribute during the games themselves, but I had some clarity during this game.
In the first quarter, and most of the second quarter, the game was still very much in doubt. Neither team was taking control of the game. Trey Burke, in particular, was having some trouble shooting and driving against Brandon Jennings. Jennings got an early steal off Burke and was really playing noticably tight man-to-man defense on him, testing the rookie. But here was something I noticed at the game. Burke had a rough start for a few possessions, but he beat Jennings back very quickly by simply giving the ball up to his teammates. I know Shums mentioned in his recap that Burke had a bad start. I think, if you notice the first and second quarters, MArvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, and maybe even Alec Burks all hit big 3s. Some cause the Pistons were playing poor perimeter defense. More of it was because Trey Burke countered Jennings' early intensity not by scoring, but by asserting his willingness as a passer. Soon enough, it felt like Trey had regained the upper hand on Jennings even though he wasn't scoring, because the Jazz' wings were feasting off of the table Burke was setting for them. And then what happened? Jennings backed off, because he had to. And that was when things started going poorly for Detroit.
Brandon Rush came in as the first sub, which perplexed me. I guess that was due to not having Hayward, but Alec Burks did not need to come out of the game. I thought to myself two things. One, "I can only imagine how the Dunkers are screaming in agony". Two, I thought, "this'll make the post-game story about Ty drawing unicorns on his whiteboard". Rush then proceeded to stay in for all of the first quarter, and way too much of the second quarter. Rush doesn't suck as an NBA player, but he's nothing special. Alec Burks, on the other hand, clearly was. Burks, on one of the first possessions of the game had deftly split a triple team, in ways that only Alec Burks can, to pass off the ball to a wide open Marvin Williams for 3.
I had the presence of mind to watch the Jazz for defense tonight. It is very easy to only really watch the offensive players, or whoever has the ball. I made myself pay attention to how the Jazz were playing defense, from the bigs down to the guards. Also, I paid attention to how quickly the Jazz got back in transition, and who was doing it. Favors was the typical Berlin Wall guard tower that we've come to expect out of him, but I was more than a little surprised to find Trey Burke impressing me more than any other Jazzman with his defense. Burke was guarding people instantly, from the time the ball was inbounded, through the time they didn't have the ball, and fighting through screens to get back. He was also paying attention to the passing lanes -- he didn't totally ignore the rest of the play while guarding his man. Because of this, he managed a couple of transition steals.
God, Andre Drummond. That guy is going to be good. I bet 29 other teams in the NBA wish they had Drummond. He ended up with 10, 13, and 3 blocks, and in the first quarter he had Kanter struggling for a good while. The Kanter-Drummond matchup actually became my favorite thing to watch in the game for a while and I set my eyes watching them.
Looking back, I believe one of the decisive things about the game began to crystallize around the end of the 1st quarter. It was that, in moments of adversity, the Jazz pushed through while the Pistons resorted to jacking up 3s and such. The Jazz asserted that they were going to do what they wanted to do, even if it failed a few times. Enes Kanter was a big part of that. In the first quarter, Drummond looked like he was going to be a match for Kanter's offense for a while, but the Jazz didn't give up on Kanter and start jacking up 3s or some such nonsense. Kanter kept getting the ball, and pounding it inside. His work on the offensive boards (an Enes special) started paying dividends, and just like Brandon Jennings had backed off Trey earlier, Drummond began giving ground to Kanter. There was almost a tangible feeling that the Jazz had won in these two instances, that even though the game was still close, the Jazz were the aggressors and the Pistons were hoping for luck, or something, to improve their fortunes.
Kanter really started warming up on the offensive end, but was not keeping the Pistons out of the lane back on defense. On several occassions the Pistons distracted Kanter with a big man to guard, then ran the ball handler around him and scored. Kanter was trying to hard to individually box out his man and wasn't giving enough attention to how the play was developing at large. However, it was hard to stay mad at ol' Big Turkey, because on the very next possession, he would come down and dominate on offense.
Alec Burks at one point in the first half got fouled really damn hard. He got an arm to the head. Not a hand to the face, a full arm to the head, and the crowd stood up with a collective "ohhhh" when he hit the floor. It was deemed a flagrant foul, and I waited to see which of Burks' teammates, if any, would come over to enforce respect. To my surprise, it was the hired gun, Richard Jefferson. Jefferson spent so much time talking to the Pistons that I wondered if a delay of game penalty would be called. Huh.
I noticed that the Pistons went small pretty early in the 3rd quarter. Kyle Singler came in as a third 'guard' and the Pistons were running some combination of he, Stuckey, Bynum, and Pope. I thought this might be effective seeing as how the Jazz were somehow averse to playing Favors and Kanter together for more than short stretches (damn it, Ty!). But the problem was that Trey Burke was simply moving, attacking, defending, hustling, and making decisions faster than every other player out on the basketball court. The speed and urgency that Burke was handling basically everything simply commanded notice. Several times I heard Pistons fans near me muttering "Trey Burke is a hell of a player".
I didn't really take notes for most of the second half. I remember thinking, the Jazz are getting fantastic floor spacing, much better than I remember it on TV in previous games. Trey Burke in particular. In transition or when a different Jazzman brought the ball up the court, I tweeted at one point that Burke was habitually spotting up in good position to help his teammate with the ball make a play. He was, God, I sound like a broken record. He was simply fun to watch. Burke this, Burke that, but honestly folks. #3 wowed tonight. He was everywhere, in every aspect of the game, doing things that a seasoned NBA pro should do. And he looked hungry. He looked like a driven man, like someone who would show the initiative to go to Spokane to meet and pick Stockton's brain.
I even called in to the local radio show on the way home in the car and complained about the Pistons coach! The Pistons coach really seemed ineffective. He rarely called timeouts, and when he did, he would spend most of the timeouts on the court with his fellow coaches while the Detroit players just sorta hung around on the bench. I thought, what an ineffective way to spend a timeout. You can talk to your coaches during the game. Why don't you get in your players' faces and get them motivated instead of letting them use the timeout to stand there and doze off? Say what you want to about Corbin, at least he wasn't doing that!
I guess that's all I have to share! What an amazing experience it was, my head is filled with Jazz everything.
I have a few videos and photos to share -