By: Rob Scott / @robscott33
Euroleague Adventures was on press row for the third NBA regular season game to be held in London, hoping, if not expecting, for a little something from anyone with an international connection.
Former Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Will Bynum top scored for Detroit with 22 points but it wasn’t enough as New York finished 102-87 victors.
In the same fashion that articles from the American media attempt to shoehorn in as many references to basketball stateside as they can - “former Trail Blazer Viktor Khryapa!” - we will have to resort to inverting the habit to make an account of the game internationally relevant.
The rosters featured only two European players, both on the Pistons - Sweden’s Jonas Jerebko and Viacheslav Kravtsov, from Ukraine. Jerebko racked up a DNP-CD and Kravtsov appeared for the final ninety seconds, managing to dish out an assist in only his second game of the season.
The action was ugly early for the “home” side, although with a largely pro-Knicks crowd eerily quiet through most of a game that offered little drama, neither team really had homecourt advantage. Carmelo Anthony opened up hot from three point range, the Knicks beginning on a 16-2 run with Anthony (twice), Shumpert and Kidd connecting on threes.
Anthony scored 18 of his 26 points in the first half as New York led 56-41.
Amar’e Stoudamire ended up the Knicks’ second best scorer, finishing with 17 points on 3-for-5 from the field and 11-for-12 from the line, but his inability to stay in front of Pistons guards, particularly Bynum, in pick and rolls, was a major weakness and a red flag going forward for New York.
“Honorary Euro” Pablo Prigioni enjoyed a little more run than normal, with Raymond Felton’s absence through injury, and he played a characteristically solid game, with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, zero turnovers and zero shots attempted in just over 20 minutes. He was Amar’e’s accomplice in poor defense, but this owed more to Mike Woodson’s strategy of switching high picks. Still, nothing to get excited about.
In game one of that series, Bynum was held scoreless. In game two, however, Prigioni had a front row seat to this:
Other than Bynum, former Lucentum Alicante and Real Madrid swingman Kyle Singler, in his rookie NBA campaign after a year of seasoning in Spain, played smartly on a team that doesn’t exude basketball IQ. The Pistons spent large parts of the game bricking jumpshots, but Singler moved intelligently off the ball, went 3-for-6 from three point range and contributed 15 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists.
Always available to receive the ball in space, he will be a useful NBA player, particularly if he gets to play alongside a pass-first point guard. Defensively, he suffered from going against Anthony, several times playing textbook defense but still giving up the points as Carmelo showed off his full arsenal from the mid post.
Singler and Bynum were at the centre of the Pistons’ bright spell in the third quarter as they went on a 16-2 run of their own to close the deficit to only 4 points at 63-67. But Steve Novak hit a long two from a nice crosscourt pass from Anthony, Stoudemire dropped in two more free throws, Singler just missed a three-point attempt and further scores from JR Smith and Anthony saw the Knicks close out the third quarter on an 8-0 run that trampled on that momentum as first the Pistons, then the crowd, woke up from their late-evening slumber and realised this was still a competitive game.
Although Detroit managed to cut the lead to single digits in the fourth, there was never any real dynamic swing. Aside from their third quarter naptime, the Knicks were never ahead by enough to start showboating, nor was the game close enough for the crowd to be interested.
Just as when Team USA took on Great Britain in Manchester prior to the Olympics, the crowd’s attitude was curious rather than partisan. Never bored, but politely waiting for something to cheer. Aside from a few dunks from Anthony, Chandler and Stoudemire, some fancy moves off the dribble by JR Smith and Bynum, and a hard foul on Chandler by Austin Daye that was judged a Flagrant One after review, there were neither the jaw dropping individual moments nor the tension of a close game winding to a climax.
The NBA is clearly very comfortable in London. This game was a sellout and there’s no reason to doubt the next one will be too. But to the initiated, it was a routine midseason, midweek game between a decent but not championship-caliber team, and one that is clearly some way from contending.
In the pre-game press conference, both David Stern and Adam Silver lauded the recent TV deals with Sky Sports and ESPN to show live NBA games in the UK, giving the league a multi-channel presence it has lacked since the mid 2000s. If more British fans get reacquainted with the league that so many watched in the 1990s, their basketball palettes may become so refined that they start a demanding a finer cut of the NBA meat.
That would be real proof that the NBA had arrived.