As promised, a mega-fan post recounting my night at the Staples Center behind the Pistons bench. I had two $9.50 Bud Lights, got my picture taken with Greg Kelser, was screen-captured by MFDBB, ate some chicken tenders and the Pistons won in OT. All-in-all, it was a stellar evening.
Let me say first off: low blow, Mike Payne. While my girlfriend does have long, dark, curly hair, she is also an intelligent, sexy, amazing woman: things that Slash can only dream of. She also can't play the guitar for shit.
And, as it turns out, when you buy tickets in "Row 1" of an NBA game, it apparently does NOT mean the very first row. There I was hoping for beverage service and a waitress to offer me overpriced food options that would not make me shit sideways the next day, but alas: those perks were reserved for the fatter fat cats in the two rows between me and the Pistons bench. What are these rows called? Row 0? Double 0? Infinity and infinity plus one? In any case, if you ever do what I just did: don't be fooled. There will be some fat people and trophy girlfriends with too much hairspray in front of you in the nether rows.
As you are now well aware, MFMP's suggestion of the two-pronged Red Panda/Batsignal attack won the battle of the sign-ggestions.
It actually ended up being two signs and it won for a number of reasons:
- Instant recognition
- Befuddlement of anyone but loyal DBB followers
While I loved many of the other suggestions, somehow something that was read felt more like an upper-deck sign. I banked on the idea that a Batsignal over the shoulder of JKIAFI would be impact of the tallest locally-televised order.
Early in the evening I battled to log into DBB from my phone, which, due to the evils of facebook, was god damn impossible. Then, my phone died. Sure.
So my girlfriend took over the obsessive refreshing of the Game Thread, trying to see if any of you could see my signs. I promise you I held up the Panda during nearly every free throw, on random plays at my end of the court and held up the batsignal during every time out.
For a while, I was discouraged. Then, we saw Mike Payne's post in which he correctly identified me and Slash, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarist, but no one had seen any signs yet. I became more diligent in my sign-holding: at least now you guys knew where I was.
The first half came and went and I was starting to think that there might be no way to get the signs beamed through space without streaking across the court. Naked, naturally.
But then, a breakthrough. Coming back from commercial, the Pistons bench camera man found some movie-star types (does anyone know who those people are?) in the row directly behind us. My girlfriend sprang to action: "Quick, give me the Batsignal!" My girlfriend, awesome as she is, is usually pretty introverted and reserved. Maybe it was the excitement of a competitive NBA game, or maybe it was the 23.4 ounces of Coke (the beverage kind) she had just consumed, but what transpired combined "Pistons" and "erotic" in a way that perhaps only Jonas Jerebko had previously achieved.
This is the result:
I wish you all could have seen the cameraman's face sink. He might as well have just stepped in human feces.
It was not long after that we refreshed DBB once again to find that you all were posting a shitload. But also that you had finally seen the Batsignal.
As the beer coursed through me, the game remained tight and the prospect of more sign-bombings persisted, I raised the Red Panda and Batsignal like the outcome of the game depended on it. Which, of course...it did.
Bang-up framing by FSN. You would have thought I slipped him a $20.
Now, you all can see the game and analyze from home. But allow me to offer you my behind-the-bench take:
The thing that struck me most being just feet away from the players and coaching staff was something that I sort of expected, but was surprised to see so pervasively: this is not a happy team. There was little warmth between players, zero warmth between players and coaches, very little fanfare from the bench even after big shots and next to zero excitement after a tightly-contested overtime victory.
However, the players did not seem fragmented. They fought as a team and talked to one another on the bench. But my assessment is that their unity is one not necessarily for one another so much as against Kuester. Nearly every player (CV was the notable exception) shook his head and grumbled to his teammates when benched. Part of this, I suspect, was the frustration of the game: even when you're 2-6 and on the road, facing a 1-8 team missing 2.5 starters (did you SEE that wrap job on Eric Gordon's shoulder?) should be an easy victory. It wasn't.
The players didn't seem to understand the rotation (surprise!) and Q seemed to ride the fine line between leadership and cowardice. Make no mistake: there is no personal bond between anyone on this roster and John Keuster. The days of Larry Brown are long gone.
Rodney Stuckey - Mostly followed orders and ran our ridiculously slow half-court offense. But he demonstratively took issue with Q's time out call late in the 4th where we got an offensive board and reset the offense. We'll come back to this.
Rip - It's about as bad as you all think. Rip slows our offense for ridiculous screens to get him bad jump shots and was absolutely awful on D, especially on the ball. Whether it was an Eric Gordon drive or pull up, or Rasul Butler's go-ahead 3 late in the 4th, Rip was a step slow, couldn't deny the ball, wasn't able to contest jump shots and was abused by the Clippers. The Clippers. Q finally switched Stuckey onto Gordon about 4 plays after I asked for it, but the damage was done.
One point in his defense, though: it wasn't for lack of trying. Rip gave a complete effort. I just don't think he has it any more. And with his declining effectiveness and our changing roster, running these screens and allowing him to guard the other player's shooting guard like it's 2005 is just ridiculous. Which brings me to...
Ben Gordon - The most confusing part of the game for me. BG was collected, made some key shots, had a couple of nice passes, but sat most of the game. Granted, he was (as usual) a liability on defense. But Rip and WB's play did nothing to convince me that BG should not have been in the game.
I mention this because, for all of the moping and pouting, Gordon seemed the most down-trodden. He never smiled, he never joked. I don't know that he said a word to anyone. He is truly unhappy and it shows.
Tayshaun - He's trying to lead, but his way of leading is not to put the team on his back (perhaps because he can't) but to expect more from everyone and show his disappointment when they don't deliver. This is part of the job, but not all of it. Complained and whined about defensive lapses and bad fouls more than anybody, but was also, somewhat surprisingly, the conduit between players and Q. They talked quite a few times during foul shots and time outs. I thought his worst play of the game was when late in the 4th, when Charlie was hot, we kept setting Tay up on the block, but then would swing it around to Chuck. Chuck had scored on 2 straight possessions on this same play, but on the 3rd time, Tay decided it was his turn and took an ugly, fadeaway, contested jumper. This is not leadership.
CV - Say what you will about his rebounding numbers, but CV was unbelievable in person. He was cool, collected, confident and let the game come to him. I was actually surprised that for a stretch in the 4th, we went to the "hot hand" and kept feeding Charlie the ball. He welcomed the challenged, worked in the post and took what the defense gave him. He wasn't grabbing boards in part because he was making his shots, in part because we didn't park him under the basket on offense (his starting position when we ran him on the low block was the shallow 3 in the far corner; when he was open, he hit it -- when he wasn't, he backed his man down...great basketball) and was rarely guarding Blake Griffin on D. Never complained when he sat down and was always ready when Q called his number. Easily the player of the game, for either side.
Eric Gordon - I think he has some All-Star games in his future.
Eric Bledsoe - Despite being a rook, he did exactly what his coach asked him to: push the tempo, look for your scorers and get into the paint. Showed more point guard instincts than anyone on the Pistons roster.
Blake Griffin - Wow. Blake Griffin is a beastly man-child specimen hyperbolic spring-board jumping baby-eater. Truly incredible to see in person. I've never seen LeBron live, but I've never seen anyone jump like this kid. He's also a physical presence on the floor. You just feel him there and have to account for the "Oh, fuck, what is he going to do to embarrass us next" factor. I really think Vinny blew this game when he stopped going to Blake in the post. Yes, he was in foul trouble, and, yes, we gave him more attention later in the game, but he is the Clippers' best player. Right. Now. Vinny took the game out of his hands, but I suspect he will soon learn that this is a bad idea.
J-Max - I saved him for last because I was surprised firstly that he was in the game and subsequently for how MUCH he was in the game. But let me just say this: Maxiell wasn't in the game for his offense or defensive capabilities (which were both pretty stellar last night). He was in the game because he is The Original Baby Eater. He's tough, strong and doesn't take shit from anyone. You could say the same about Ben Wallace, but Maxiell is young and testy enough to get under people's skin. Case in point: Blake Griffin. No one else on our roster could have matched his intensity and not been scared of the next ferocious put-back dunk. Not even Ben. It was a nice reminder of what J-Max brings to this team.
EDIT: Oh and I almost forgot:
KUESTER - I'm exhausted and have been moving all day. But in case you couldn't surmise from the rest of the post, players aren't happy with Coach Q. He walks around being "coachy" but also looks as though at any moment he might get punched in the face. And honestly, if I were him? I'd be worried, too.
To sum things up: Q is overcoaching. He's afraid of misusing his roster or pissing off the wrong guy, so he has a rubber band around the roster's collective balls. Case in point: calling time out when the Pistons, late in the forth, got an offensive board, reset the shot clock and the offense...without him. He immediately called the time out to put his dick in the play. Ultimately, we got the win, but the fact that we're still running Rip around screens says it all: if we're running the floor and letting Ben Gordon hurl threes, Kuester loses control and the loudmouths on the team turn on him. For the time being, sounds like lose-lose.
And that'll wrap up my analysis of two last place teams going at it. I had a blast, all the more so because of you guys. I had to explain to no less than a dozen Pistons fans in my section "what the deal was with the Batsignal." Hope you enjoyed and look out for my mega fan post on the Pistons @ Lakers January 5th. It'll be similar only I'll be in the last row and they'll probably call the game after 2 quarters when we're down by 63 points.
(Game photos coming soon -- SUNDAY)