Five days later, THE CALL still infuriates me. Just how bad was the call? Bad enough that my header image is a billboard I saw on M-14 Wednesday, one that a group of Lions fans paid to post on highways throughout southeastern Michigan. It was so outrageous that a cross section of citizens from Larry King to Cowboys’ safety Barry Church (!) to President Obama (!!!) (while visiting a local Ford plant Wednesday) have publicly stated it was the wrong call.
But wait, there’s more! Earlier this week, the NFL admitted to the Lions that they blew another key call two minutes later when Dallas faced a 4th-and-6 near midfield. They converted it and went on to score the winning touchdown. But, the NFL said offensive holding should have been called on that 4th down. That would have brought up 4th and 16.
While those two blown calls weren’t the reason the Lions lost, they certainly greatly hurt their chances to win. THE CALL was the worst I’ve ever seen in an NFL game, given the gravity of the situation. And now the league has admitted to yet another blown call. It is simply unacceptable for a league that has the resources of a small country to have such poor officiating, and many teams have been victimized by it recently. What will the officials do to impact a close game this weekend?
But I digress. Earlier this week, I said I would write about an odd reason the Lions have had little success over the years. I still plan to do so. But, I have to put that on hold a bit longer to give some long-awaited, much deserved praise to another local team.
Late in the Pistons’ game at Dallas Wednesday night, analyst Greg Kelser said something like, “is this perhaps sweet revenge in Texas?” By this point, there was no doubt the Pistons would win the game, their seventh straight victory. Let’s step back in time a little bit to understand how truly shocking this great run of Pistons basketball is.
Following a December 21 loss at Brooklyn, the Pistons were 5-23. If you had asked me if I thought the Kentucky Wildcats could beat them, I would have said “yes” without hesitation. I had asked a friend before the NBA season started who would have more wins by the end of December, the Pistons or the Lions. A couple weeks into December, I figured the Lions would finish 11-5 and that the Pistons wouldn’t record their 11th win until maybe March. Despite the arrival of Stan Van Gundy – the team’s first legitimate coach since Flip Saunders was fired in 2008 – things seemed to be getting even worse the first two months of this season.
And then, on December 22, the Pistons released Josh Smith. This is the most clear-cut case of addition by subtraction the sports world has ever seen. Don’t believe me? Check out this Bleacher Report article, which presents key statistics that speak to this point. Some of the highlights:
- Smith was shooting 39% from the field when he was released. Not that this deterred him – as of today, he has attempted 485 field goals (some of these, of course, are with his new team, the Houston Rockets), while the highest total for a current Pistons player is 401.
- With Smith on the court, the Pistons averaged 97.3 points per 100 possessions, second-worst in the league. Without him (which includes when he was on the bench and the games since he left), they’ve averaged 110 per 100.
Two weeks ago, it seemed likely the Lions would play at Dallas in the Wild Card round. The Pistons had road games at San Antonio and Dallas on the schedule for January 6 and 7. Any hope of a team from Michigan winning a game in Texas in early January rested entirely with the Lions. Little did I know just how impactful the Pistons’ decision to waive Josh Smith would be.
When I tuned into the Pistons’ game at San Antonio, they were down by 15 points. No surprise… they had won five in a row since cutting Smith, but playing on the road against the defending champs was another matter. But the game ended up going down to the wire. Leading 104-103 after the Pistons made 2 free throws with 8 seconds to go, the Spurs called timeout. Tim Duncan made a bad inbounds pass, and then Brandon Jennings took the ball the length of the court and scored with 0.1 seconds to go to deliver the 105-104 win. That… was… awesome! Six wins a row! But they couldn’t repeat it the next night at Dallas, could they?
They could. Following a DJ Augustin technical foul with about 8 minutes remaining, the Pistons led 81-77. That would be all. Augustin went off, hitting consecutive 3s, and before you knew it, the Pistons led 102-85 with just a couple minutes to go. Final score, 108-95 Detroit. Seven in a row. And this win came against a team who also had a 6-game winning streak coming in, with an overall record of 26-10.
Suddenly, the Pistons look like a real NBA team again. They are still just 12-23, with a lot of work to do before they are a threat to make any kind of playoff run (that is not going to happen this year). However, it is no coincidence that they are playing much better basketball since Smith’s release. Floor spacing is better. Ball movement is better. Energy is better, which leads to better defense. Everyone seems to be playing in his natural role and buying into what Van Gundy is selling.
The Pistons have another tough test tonight, at home against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks. It wouldn’t shock anyone if they lost, but it also wouldn’t shock anyone if they won. A win against the Hawks would have been unfathomable back on December 21. Either way, they won’t go on another long losing stretch, because they are truly coming together as a team. And that made that sweet revenge in Dallas even sweeter.