‘So many emotions were caught up in this game. We just couldn’t figure it out’
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – The Pistons began the night by remembering Kobe Bryant and ended it by trying to forget their efforts to honor his legendary competitive spirit.
“Believe me, rest his soul, he would be embarrassed at our non-compete level,” Dwane Casey said after Cleveland snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 115-100 win over another depleted Pistons lineup, this time missing Derrick Rose on top of Blake Griffin and Luke Kennard’s absences. “That was not a high compete level. Our best defenders were getting blown by.”
Kevin Love stood apart from his peers on either team by scoring 20 points in an otherwise sluggish first half, hitting 6 of 8 3-point shots.
The teams opened the game with Cleveland winning the tip and deliberately taking a 24-second shot clock violation and the Pistons, by prearranged agreement, responding with an 8-second backcourt violation – the 24 and 8 representative of the uniform numbers Bryant wore over the course of his Lakers career.
The pregame countdown clock froze at 8:24 prior to tipoff as both teams lined up at opposite free-throw lines and Little Caesars Arena darkened, illuminated only by purple LED lights ringing the arena. The overhead video boards played a Bryant tribute that began with his last visit as an NBA player to oppose the Pistons on Dec. 6, 2015 at The Palace of Auburn Hills with John Mason’s rousing pregame introduction of him.
Pistons players wore Motor City edition jerseys over their game uniforms, each with “Bryant” on the nameplate and all adorned with either 8 of 24. It was the brainchild of Pistons equipment manager John “Kong” Coumoundouros.
“A great thought,” Reggie Jackson said. “It was something we all bought into and just wanted to pay our respects in the way that felt appropriate. We just wanted to honor Kobe in that way.”
“It’s something special we were able to do, that Kong and the whole equipment staff was able to do for us,” said Langston Galloway, who played his college basketball at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, where Bryant played high school basketball before jumping straight to the NBA. “I was able to meet and play against him when he was 24, so I wanted to represent him at the 24 age.”
Without Rose, sitting on an active and career-best streak of 12 straight games of 20-plus points, the Pistons never shook the lethargy of their initial backcourt violation, it seemed.
Casey used his 23rd different starting lineup of the season with Jackson – still under a minutes restriction after returning last week from a 13-week injury absence – stepping into the starting lineup, which also included Thon Maker and Sekou Doumbouya up front flanking Andre Drummond.
“He’s our most talented player we have right now,” Casey said of Rose. “The most talented player with the ball. A lot of stuff like it was last year with Blake. You’ve got to have a queen bee and right now he’s our queen bee.”
Jackson led the Pistons with 16 points as they used a 28-point fourth quarter to break 100. The Pistons turned the ball over 18 times and needed 10 fourth-quarter free throws to get to 17 for the game, an indication of the difficulty they had generating quality shots. Cleveland, meanwhile, scored a whopping 64 points in the paint.
Jackson waved off a suggestion that the emotions of Bryant’s death Sunday in a helicopter crash that resulted in eight others losing their lives – including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna – took a toll on the Pistons.
“That’s not an excuse,” he said. “Both teams had to deal with it. The entire NBA family had to deal with it. The biggest thing to learn from Kobe losing his daughter and everybody else that was lost is live every day to the fullest. If anything, we didn’t honor who he was by coming out and not competing. Just a terrible start for the first unit. I’ll take the blame for it. We’ve just got to be better.”
Galloway, who idolized Bryant and built his approach to improvement around Bryant’s storied work ethic, struck a similar tone in talking about how much Bryant meant to him and players up and down rosters across the NBA.
“It’s tough, knowing what Kobe stands for and what he embodies,” he said. “That’s what everyone in this locker room grew up on. Kobe’s an icon, a legend. A lot of guys modeled their games after him, myself included. It means a lot to go out there and represent him tonight. We kind of laid an egg. So many emotions were caught up in this game. We just couldn’t figure it out. But we wanted to go out there and represent him as best we could.”