I was on hand Saturday night for the closest thing to NBA action since June. Rosters including Kevin Durant, John Wall, Brandon Jennings and James Harden squared off in a thoroughly entertaining struggle for streetball supremacy between the Goodman League (DC) and Drew League (LA). After four quarters, 269 points and about as many controversial foul calls, Goodman secured a one point victory. I wrote a recap of the major themes for ESPN, here’s the stuff I couldn’t squeeze in.
- Lots and lots and lots of pictures from @Jose3030. Also check his timeline from the weekend for his favorites.
- Kevin Durant vs. James Harden and John Wall vs. Brandon Jennings were the most high profile (and usage rate) matchups, but DeMarcus Cousins’ battle with JaVale McGee was nearly as entertaining. Both big men are breathtaking in person, their graceful movements appear especially surreal with such giant men. McGee caught a couple alley-oops at least a couple feet above the rim, and snatched a John Wall floater clean out of the air. Cousins, however, impressed even more. If a typical box score was available, I’ve no doubt the Kings center would have easily tallied the highest plus-minus rating. He was a bully, blasting smaller players (including McGee) out of the way and using his long arms and soft hands to gather nearly every carom (nevermind that he finished the game with seven or eight fouls). Cousins does many things well– reliable shooting form, nifty passing, exquisite footwork near the rim–but the thing that really jutted out at me was his dexterity. He has incredibly skilled hands for such a young, humongous player.
- Kevin Durant is really tall, and really good. In the first half he hit two 3’s from, no joke, 35 feet.
- When I arrived at the arena ninety minutes before tip-off, there was already line that stretched a few hundred yards from the gym’s single entrance. Trinity University, a small all-female Catholic school and Nancy Pelosi’s alma mater, could only accommodate around 1,500 people. When I got inside (media access!) the stands were already half-filled by spectators for the AAU undercard; it wouldn’t surprise me if someone showed up an hour early and got turned away. Fake or unauthorized tickets seem to be one of the many culprits. Ouch.
- On Twitter: @peckerle: I was also in line as players drove up. Security called out models (rovers, benz) and names. Then said “jetta” and just laughed
- I was hanging around out back of the arena while players from the Drew League squad were waiting to be picked up. Marcus Banks, Craig Smith and Money Mike, an LA streetball legend, were talking about what went right and wrong in the game. I won’t share details since I was eavesdropping, but clearly they approach this as more than an exhibition. They are competitive guys, and were definitely peeved about how things ended, turning over specific instances and game trends to determine why they lost. That whole team will be fired up for a return game in LA (September 10 is the current rumor).
- Watching James Harden gave me flashbacks of seeing Manu Ginobili in person when the Spurs conquered the Sonics en route to their the 2005 championship. Harden is more powerful, but they both shoot flatfooted 3-pointers and are exceptionally smooth in their attacking movements. Harden froze then blew by Durant a few times during the night, but my favorite was when Harden, handing in the middle of the floor, rocked Durant backward by stepping forward with his left foot and feinting the drive, then reared his chest back (keeping his left foot slightly forward), drawing Durant out of his stance. Harden then switched levels, got his shoulder low and past Durant’s hip and casually dropped in an uncontested lay-up.
- Miles Rawls was in rare form. He had jokes and jokes and jokes for just about everyone, but my favorite moment was when he let the Drew League MC take over the mic in the fourth quarter. The Goodman crew was down eight points or so, and seemed flat and a bit winded, forcing Rawls to cede, “they say the more you say the more you gotta take back.” The Drew League MC came on and didn’t exactly bomb, but his style didn’t jibe with the pro-DC audience. As the crowd booed him, the Goodman team climbed back to tie the score. After three minutes, Miles snatched the mic back to the crowd’s delight and crowed, “now you know, I’m the best that ever did it and got away with it.”
- Brandon Jennings is too fast for any single person to stay in front of. But when John Wall checked in, he corralled the speedster by staying with him step for step then elevating and using his superior size and hops to contest his lay-ups. Jennings still did quite well, but it was like watching a huge cornerback lockdown a small slot receiver. Wall can’t top Durant for pure freakiness, but he was the most dynamic athlete present, and displayed Dwayne Wade-esque defensive versatility in the open court and at the rim. He didn’t win MVP (Durant’s 44 and hometown hero status prevailed), but Wall absolutely took over the last five minutes of the game, scoring at will and keeping Jennings out of the paint. Oh, and he’s not old enough to get into the club for the official after party (though something tells me that wasn’t an issue…).
- Enough went wrong with the security and tickets to make you appreciate the NBA’s event infrastructure, but there was one element they got completely right: the food was cheap and lacked that “now what in the hell is this supposed to be?” quality associated with NBA arena fare.
- Money Mike from LA was the non-pro who acquitted himself best against NBA talent. The shooting guard has NBA size and a crafty inside-out game reminiscent of Cuttino Mobley. And One’s Baby Shaq had some nice moments too (and nine points), but looked tiny next to Craig Smith. That last point is true for pretty much all humans.
- After DeMar DeRozan (who Rawls continually mistook for Brandon Jennings) clanked a jumper, Rawls said “That’s his Achilles heel, the jump shot.” DeRozan then drilled his next one and pointed to Rawls as he coasted back on defense. Rawls immediately snapped “make two and I’ll apologize!” DeRozan couldn’t, bricking his next attempt. Rawls didn’t pass up the chance to say “I told you so.”
- The demand for this game surprised everyone, though I’d be surprised if it did more than break even. For a long time organizers were nervous about covering the cost of the space and transporting the players to Washington. When the LA rematch is scheduled, expect large sponsors and a large venue to be a part of it.