Sitting in traffic, and staring at the clock. 5:50. My little brother asks if there's a shot we make Kobe's intro, seeing as we only have 10 minutes to spare. After pulling a move on the exit ramp that is usually reserved for "emergency vehicles" -- for the record, I would qualify making Pistons tip-off an emergency -- I sped through the back of The Palace and made it to the concourse just before the Lakers' intro.
Kobe's retirement tour is a strange thing for basketball. I remember seeing Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards when I was in 8th grade, and it was one of those things where you didn't for sure know if it'd be the last time you saw him. You thought it probably would be, but it was never set in stone like this Kobe tour. Kobe is making an event out of nearly every remaining away game on the NBA schedule for the Lakers. It's deserved for one of the top 10 to ever play in the league, but it's also one of the weirdest experiences I have had at The Palace.
When I got to my seats, the lights were off and Mason was giving Kobe his extra long intro, rattling off his list of achievements. Before Mason could even ask the crowd to cheer, we were already mid standing ovation. Plenty of phones out for Instagram and Snapchat opportunities. After the Pistons' intro, the lights turned on and to be expected it was nearly a Lakers home game. For those who have gone to Lakers games at The Palace before, aside from the 04 Finals, it usually is a pretty Purple & Gold friendly crowd. Detroit fans have always respected and cheered for Kobe. The only thing it reminded me of is seeing a Yankees game outside of New York.
The fuzzy, nostalgic feelings before tip quickly turned sour for the many Lakers fans as your Pistons jumped down their throats with a tennis lead of 15-love. I know that the rest of this article is supposed to be spent analyzing a specific point about this game, and breaking it down into DBB level of detail, but this wasn't a game. And that's the weird part about the Kobe retirement tour.
Credit the Pistons intensity for making sure LA never felt like they were in it. 32 and 33 point first and second quarters will do that to teams. It was almost emotionless from the Pistons. The buckets were coming too easy, and the Lakers defense was just non-existent. I watched the Pistons bench looking for emotion around this big lead, and instead they all sat quietly, politely clapping. Only Aaron Baynes would jump out of his seat for a big shot or dunk. It was like they were on the sidelines for an open run at practice, just patiently waiting their turn.
After a first half where he went 0-7, It wasn't until the third quarter that the crowd's hero Kobe made his first shot. A lightly contested three-pointer in the face of Marcus Morris.
And then, explosion.
You honestly would have thought he made a buzzer beater the way people jumped out of their seats. "KO-BE" chants began to rain down for the ensuing possessions. Whenever he touched the ball afterward, people screamed at Kobe to shoot it. It was like living in bizzaro Josh Smith world at The Palace.
The other Lakers dejectedly stood outside the three point line on most possessions, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for this team. Can you imagine being a young player, on a 3-17 team, and instead of getting to learn each other's games and learn a system. Your franchise, your coach, your star player is resigned to pleasing the home crowd in visiting arenas with contested, isolation jump shots? That's a tough way to start your NBA career. Even for the veterans, it's got to be frustrating - maybe why we saw Nick Young get so upset with the Tolliver effect.
And for the Pistons, I have to think the Kobe reception annoyed them too. This may be his farewell tour, but this is still their hometown. These are supposed to be their fans. After that Kobe basket, Reggie Jackson charged a little bit harder to the rim - as if to remind the crowd what city we were in. Even Stan Van Gundy after the game talked about how this game should have shown fans to come out and cheer for the Pistons and not the visiting team.
I left midway through the fourth deciding to beat traffic rather than wait around. Normally leaving Pistons games, I am drained. The anxiety and emotional rollercoaster of Detroit Pistons basketball is no casual thing. But this Lakers game was painless, it was a calm confidence, and one of those games that I knew we should win easily and we did. That's why I said earlier that it was hard to walk away from this like any other game. It instead felt like I had just watched a scrimmage. And while that may speak volumes about the state of the Lakers, it also says a lot about where the Pistons confidence and chemistry stands after a four-game win streak.
So instead, I wonder if most of those Detroit-Lakers fans left feeling the same way I did, that I saw Kobe make his last two buckets in Detroit, but I also saw a Pistons team where things are falling into place.