The Detroit Pistons did just enough to beat back the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder, winning 88-82 and improving their record during this homestand to 6-2. But first, a story!
It was about midway through the third quarter when I got absolutely schooled by a 10-year-old sitting next to me.
The Palace jumbotron was displaying scores around the NBA and the Bulls had just beaten the Pacers by two. My initial reaction was not positive -- I kept it PG for the youngin sittin' next to me. I've been so focused on Bulls or Wizard losses that I didn't even think about the implications of a Pacers loss. I vented my frustration to a friend sitting next to me when this small child with super spiky hair spoke up.
"Actually, we'll move into 7th because the Pacers loss. It's good for us."
It was a Desus Nice patented #actually. The only thing that could have completed the scene better would have been if he transformed into Kermit and sipped a cup of tea before saying, "but that's none of my business." Needless to say, my friends and wife who attended the game refused to let me forget this moment for the rest of the night (and probably for the foreseeable future).
The point of this albeit slightly embarrassing story is that the playoff bug has bitten us here in Detroit. While all of the other Detroit teams (collegiate included) are kind of stuck in this weird limbo of mediocrity (sorry Tigers fans, its true), the Pistons are young, entertaining, showing potential, and, perhaps most importantly, actually good. At least this is the reasoning I am using to explain the energy in the Palace last night, a crowd that is hungry for some postseason action.
As far as basketball goes, this wasn't the best game. The Oklahoma City Thunder were without two major players in Durant and Serge Ibaka, meaning last night's defensive game plan for Detroit was simple: limit Russell Westbrook. Despite him scoring 24 points, it was on 8-28 shooting, And outside of him, there was no help aside from Enes Kanter.
The Pistons offense wasn't exactly humming last night either. Sure, Andre Drummond had another double-double, but he was, as my friend sitting next to me put it, a hard watch. Taking some plays off and sulking after missed opportunities or not getting a pass he wanted. During one timeout in particular I could see Reggie Jackson and him having a "discussion" over pick-and-roll strategy. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's offensive game should also go on the side of milk cartons across Michigan because the guy was STRUGGLING all night.
Marcus Morris though. Let me just say this guy was born to be a Piston. The formula was simple for Stan, make OKC switch defenders on him and let Morris go to work in isolation. When Kyle Singler tried to get physical with him in the second quarter, it was laughable. Poor Huestis from OKC at one point got posted up three trips in a row for Morris fadeaways. After OKC was forced into a timeout, Morris raised his hands to the crowd asking for more noise. This guy needs to stay here forever.
The most poignant moment of the night, and probably the spark that lit the Westbrook post-game comments came in the waning moments of the game. With the Pistons only up 3 and 1:30 left in the game, Reggie split a double team at the three point line leading to an open lane for an emphatic dunk that all but sealed the win. The crowd in the Palace went nuts and Reggie understandably was pumped. It's well publicized how messy the split with OKC was for him, and since joining the Pistons it has mostly been them, specifically Durant and Westbrook, fueling the beef with flat out disrespectful post-game comments.
Before Aron Baynes went to the line for free throws with less than two seconds left, Reggie skipped and danced down the floor towards OKC's basket. Hands in the air, asking for the crowd to go nuts, then skipping around the free throw line with stares towards OKC's bench. During the free throws, he kept telling the OKC team to "Get Out" (Shouts to @RoyceYoung for tweeting the footage below). After the final horn, all of the Pistons met Reggie at halfcourt for congratulations, no player on OKC stuck around for a handshake - straight to the locker room.
I am sure this is what led to Russell's postgame comments about Reggie's "bulls##t" celebration - a funny comment for a guy who makes a point of emphatically dunking and dancing in nearly every single game. Let me also play captain obvious for a moment and point out that this was not a game in Oklahoma City, Reggie can do whatever he damn well pleases in his home arena. I look at it like f you come over to my house and play me in ping pong (challenges welcome) and I win, I'm going to feel a little more confident to celebrate than if I were on a visiting table. If there's anything about Reggie's celebration that is "bulls#it" it is that he didn't make it more emphatic and directed at Oklahoma City.
I hope Reggie watched the comments in the locker room with his teammates. I hope they all laughed and made jokes about it for the rest of the night. I hope they keep making jokes about it at practice today. But more than anything, I hope they noticed what those comments really show - that they are a team making noise around league.