LONDON – At least we didn’t have overtime this year. There was no mad, early rush to catch the last train.
While it’s great that the NBA was back in London for a third regular-season game, the threat of the game going into overtime, whether it’s Toronto vs. New Jersey [Brooklyn] or the Knicks and Pistons was in the back of all worried patrons’ heads.
Luckily their anxieties were saved for another occasion, as this year’s game only needed four quarters.
The Toronto Raptors’ games with the New Jersey Nets back in 2011 were successful as it they were staged on a Friday and a Saturday, the only snag was that Saturday’s game went to triple-overtime, and though the fans were treated to an exhilarating battle between two teams that were not even close to making the post-season, the fans had two choices: a) stay and watch the thrilling conclusion and worry about getting home afterwards, knowing that the underground service had practically shut; or b) miss the third overtime period and the exhilarating ending which saw Andrea Bargnani miss a 3-pointer over Kris Humphries, whom at the time was getting questions by the British media thrown at him about his romance with Kim Kardashian.
“Hopefully we can give the fans in London some good entertainment,” the Pistons’ Tayshaun Prince said. “We understand it might be hard for them as it isn’t a weekend game but unfortunately, that’s nothing to do with us.”
For those that are unfamiliar with the transportation system in London, it’s incredibly different to the subway and virtually any type of conveyance across New York’s five boroughs.
While they extended the last trains during the Olympics by a mere hour, the rail service’s final call is normally just after midnight – with a near five-hour wait for the first train to operate again. The bus service runs out of juice at just before 12 a.m.
So if you stay to the end, you are either staying an extra five hours, you are paying half of your annual salary for a taxi, or you have to swim for it.
Some choice, eh?
Even though I kind of freaked them out a little on Thursday afternoon as I entered the O2 Arena, site of the Olympic gold medal game and home to the upcoming Euroleague Final Four in the second week of May, I saw a dad and his son, roughly around nine-years-old, waiting to be seated at one of the Arena’s eateries. So, I walked over to them, introduced myself and asked the dad if his kid had school tomorrow or was he letting him have the day off so that he can enjoy watching his basketball heroes?
“No, he’s going to school tomorrow,” he said. “It will be touch-and-go though about tomorrow. I hope the game doesn’t go to extra-time or anything, we ended up leaving mid-way through the third extra-time period when we were here in 2011 [Raptors vs. Nets].”
With that, I thanked them both for their time and quickly asked the boy whom he was supporting in this game?
“Knicks,” was his answer.
By around four o’clock, as the sun began to set over the London sky, the O2 Arena was gradually filling up full of fans clad in various NBA jerseys with the majority of them being the blue Carmelo Anthony Knicks vests. Detroit might have been the home team, technically, but there was no doubt about whom the crowd here were vying for to start. And the biggest pop of the pre-game introduction was predictable and unanimous.
Knicks legend John Starks and Pistons great Bill Laimbeer were in attendance as well as soccer stars Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls) and Ashley Cole (Chelsea). Spike Lee, of course, was front row alongside Baron Davis.
For Anthony (it was he that got the biggest reception, by the way) and Tyson Chandler, they both returned to the scene of their gold medal triumph last August at the London Games where Team USA defeated Spain. And since the Olympics, we’ve seen a great deal of production from both players, and it’s reflected in the Knicks’ current record, which after today’s 102-87 win over the Pistons now stands at 25-13.
“They’re both trying to do new things, especially Melo, and it’s certainly great to see,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said.
“Anthony is certainly trying to assert himself a bit more, he’s more vocal and he’s doing wonders for the young players on the roster. Tyson is more aggressive and he’s improved his technique at the line, which for a big is useful.”
Iman Shumpert, who played his first game of the season at the O2, saw the new presence that Anthony was trying to create at practice as something positive.
“He’s a great leader,” he commented.
“He’s our leading scorer and one of the leaders in scoring the league but he’s trying to do so much more and like us all, he just wants to get better and he wants the team to get better.”
Chandler recorded a quiet double-double of 10 points and 14 rebounds while Anthony led all scorers with 26 points despite missing 11 of his 19 field attempts, a few of which were forced.
For the Pistons, the struggle continues. They’re 0-2 against the Knicks for the season with two more meetings to follow.
Will Bynum fronted their scoring with 22 points, and with that, cruised past 2,000 career points. Detroit though didn’t seem to enjoy their trip across the Atlantic much though. Wednesday’s media session was relaxed, and that was pretty much their mentality up until the third quarter when Bynum inspired a 14-1 run to reduce the double-digit deficit to 66-61. At that point the London crowd, even those with New York vests on were cheering every Pistons bucket.
Then the Knicks’ 3-point shooting finally got back into rhythm – and with that – the Knicks bandwagon was rolling again.
Boston and Orlando are to arrive at the Palace next. It’ll be interesting to see how the Pistons bounce back. As for the Knicks: A few days off before they face their close rivals Brooklyn at the Garden on Martin Luther King Day.
And yours truly managed to catch the last train from London. The NBA planned it well, really.
Additional notes: Amar’e Stoudemire came off the bench and recorded 17 points and four rebounds in just over 20 minutes. A note on those points: 11 of those 17 though came from the foul line. … As said, Iman Shumpert made his return tonight and was in the Knicks’ starting five. He mustered 8 points in just under 15 minutes on court.
John Hobbs is a freelance journalist from Britain who has crossed paths with Chris Sheridan in Istanbul, Turkey; Vilnius, Lithuania; Manchester, England; and other random European cities. Follow him on Twitter.