On most days, the drive to the Palace takes me about an hour, give or take a few minutes depending on traffic. But after spending more than an hour in the car on Sunday, I had traveled all of 15 miles before accepting defeat and conceding to Mother Nature. Believe me, I really wanted to get to the game -- I was eager to see newcomers Primo Brezec and Walter Herrmann, and besides, the Warriors are always fun to watch -- but I just didn't have the stomach to continue fishtailing through turns and sliding through red lights.
Live to fight another day, right?
It seems I wasn't the only person who adopted that attitude. No, I'm not talking about how the Palace was literally half empty, but rather Don Nelson throwing in the towel soon after halftime. After Detroit closed the second quarter with a 30-7 lead to give them a commanding 23-point lead at the break, Nelson benched his starters for most of the second half, likely thinking about the fact this game was the first of a back-to-back. From the Contra Costa Times:
"I pulled the plug early on this one," Nelson said. "You have to think beyond one game sometime. I was going to give the starters five minutes in the third period. If I didn't see any light, I was pretty much going to play my bench. ... I rested the starters, played my bench, got a loss -- but we were going to get that anyway. We weren't playing well enough to beat these guys."
The second quarter was truly the difference -- the two teams were deadlocked with 74 points over the other three frames. The starters looked good (Chauncey Billups scored 19 on five shots, Tayshaun Prince led the team with 23 and Antonio McDyess tallied a double-double) but what really impressed me was the play from the bench.
Just like the first time he faced the Warriors (when he went 14 and 14), Jason Maxiell was an absolute force, scoring 11 with four boards and a career-high six blocks. That, my friends, is a lot of babies. Arron Afflalo also showed up to play, scoring a career-high 11 points with four boards. What's most impressive but doesn't show up in the box score is the fact that both Maxiell and Afflalo were on the court during Detroit's entire 30-7 run in the second quarter.
Amir Johnson has been a bit tentative (on offense, at least) during spot duty in the past, but he quickly got into a groove on Sunday and made the most of his 15 minutes of action: he finished with six points, seven boards, three blocks and a steal. His athleticism and agility is what sets him apart from most players his size, and it was on full display while making several nice hustle plays. From Chris McCosky of the Detroit News:
Johnson made a spectacular block on a lay-in attempt from rookie Brandan Wright. Johnson scored on a putback and then again on a nice lefty-scoop shot in the lane. Later he dived onto the floor to make a steal. He was, to say the least, active.
"Amir, a lot of times he looks like he's going to make a mistake but he winds up turning the mistake into a great play," coach Flip Saunders said. "It's just a matter of him being more consistent. He does a lot of things off instinct, which is good. He just has to understand more about what we are trying to do."
It's too bad Saunders' compliments sounds so backhanded (or am I still sensitive?), but whatever -- if Amir keeps playing like that, he'll force his way into the picture. And it's obvious that Amir sees Detroit's recent trade as an opportunity for more minutes:
"I definitely see it as an opportunity," Johnson said of the trade. "Nazr's gone and we've got two new players who need time to learn our system. I just have to keep playing hard and working hard and maybe I will get some more minutes."
Even so, it sounds like Amir isn't against helping the new guys get acclimated. From A. Sherrod Blakely:
Johnson's growth isn't limited to how he plays, either. There were moments Sunday in which Johnson was giving Brezec tips on where to be on the floor. That's usually what Johnson's teammates do with him.
"I just try to help every dude that comes in," Johnson said. "I do what Sheed does, try to help guys, mentor guys, even though I am the (youngest)."
Pistons 109, Warriors 87 box score [NBA.com]