The Thunder weren't playing. The game wasn't in Chesapeake Energy Arena. The NBA didn't even sanction the event. Having said that, the US Fleet Tracking Basketball Invitational was not about what wasn't there, but what was. Since the moment David Stern first announced the cancellation of regular season NBA games, Oklahoma City basketball fans have been starving for something to satisfy their basketball itch.
While no one was going to mistake this glorified pick-up game for anything from the last Thunder play-off run, it did allow the local fans a taste of the summer league action they've been hearing about in the off-season. I know I for one was very interested to see how the event would go down. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect for such a unique event. What will they do during timeouts? Who's going to do the play-by-play? How will this game compare to my experiences at a typical Thunder game?
Looking back at my experience, one primary thought comes to mind: this was no NBA. To say the defense was lacking would be akin to saying Tim Donaghy might have made a bad call in the '02 Western Conference Finals. Oh, and speaking of refs, not even sure why anyone in stripes showed up for this game (but more on that later). Also, the entertainment that was offered during play stoppages was often awkward and at best was unoriginal.
There are a lot of things I want to address about the game (both on and off the court), so here's my report card for this unique event:
Cox Convention Center Upgrades: C.
It had been over a year since I had been in The Myriad last. Before this year, it was an arena stuck in the year 1982. I knew they were set to add improvements, and I was eager to see what they had changed. I'm sad to report I was not overly impressed. Mostly what they did was an overhaul of the arena concessions, which was much needed. Their expansions and additions seemed to lead to new problems, however. Lines from the concession stands expanded out from counter to wall in the narrow convention center hallways. It was quite difficult to navigate the arena halls during halftime and it was obvious the arena clearly wasn't suited for sold-out events like this one.
MORE GRADES AFTER THE JUMP
Game MC Miles Rawles: B.
The announcing for the game was a nice change of pace from the traditional "Johnson for two" format. Goodman League Commissioner and Washington Wizards super-fan Miles Rawles served as the game's master of ceremonies. While his calls fell far short of Emcee Rell of the AND1 Tour, it was nice to hear something a little more lively, a little less league regulated, a little more off the cuff.
Chemistry Between Old Friends: A-.
It was more than evident that White Teamers Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook had played together before. While it took many of the other players a while to settle in with their new teammates, the original Thunder trio seemed to be much more comfortable. It should also be noted that Reggie Jackson also made his OKC debut while playing for the White Team, though his impact on the game was much less evident.
"Real" Fans: C+.
I'm sad to report the fans did not stand until the first basket was scored. They also only achieved a small fraction of the noise level Oklahoma City fans have become known for. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't exactly the easiest event to cheer for. Still, with the game winding down to the final seconds of regulation, the entire arena rose to its feet and for just a brief moment you could feel the vibe OKC fans have become known for. The vibe carried over a little into overtime as well.
Still, I couldn't help but notice scores of fans were leaving the game early, despite the fact it was still anyone's game. The couple that sat next to me, for example, left before the end of the second quarter. The stands were noticeably less full halfway through the fourth quarter. I can understand if you had season tickets and had to leave early, but why would you buy tickets (which were pretty pricey, by the way) for a one-time event only to leave before it was over?
"Fake" Fans and Game Entertainment: D-.
For some reason, they hired self-titled "superfan" Cameron Hughes to play the role of cheerleader for the event. While I appreciate his energy, I certainly did not appreciate him telling me how and when to cheer. The first time I saw this guy, I thought he was just some drunken fan (as many people seem to agree).
My real beef, however, was with the ill-conceived play stoppage entertainment. It seemed whoever planned the little games had no concept of how long it would take to complete each event. Several of the games flopped like lead balloons. An RC car game ended in about 10 seconds. A "dance" competition between two kids ended without either participant actually dancing. The halftime show consisted of average contortionists. It was nothing special. In fact the lady who fell down the stairs and spilled her beer in front of me did so with much more grace.
The contortionist show was followed up by what seemed to be an impromptu rap show by some local MC. Unfortunately, acoustics were kinda bad, at least where I was sitting. No one could understand a word he was saying.
OK, I didn't expect them to go all out in this game, but even I was somewhat taken aback by the lack of defense in the game. The first quarter was practically just an open shoot around. While it got slightly more competitive, I noticed players were always content to allow open shots at any time in any period as long as there were more than 30 seconds remaining. All the "defense" that took place was usually reserved for stealing in-bounds passes and fighting for rebounds. Honestly, if it weren't for fantastic displays of athleticism and shooting showcases, the game might have been a chore to watch.
Misleading Game "Swag": C+.
Naturally, commemorative shirts were being sold at the game. What's the problem with that, you ask? The shirts read "DURANT VERSUS GRIFFIN SW@G" in big bold letters. For those of you unaware, Blake Griffin was unable to attend this game due to a foot injury. Can you imagine how the organizers for this event reacted when they heard Griffin was going to be out and they had just printed thousands of these shirts? I can guarantee you, the misnomer had a direct impact on shirt sales.
Did I buy one you ask? No, I didn't, not because they were wrong. That actually made it much more attractive to me. I didn't buy them because they were $20 each and I'm one of the world's biggest cheapskates.
Refs and Court Mop Boys: C-.
Again, why did the officials even show up? The only time (and I do mean only time) they even used their whistles was to signal very obvious fouls that occurred somewhat near the rim. It seemed to me as if they had some sort of penalty quota they were trying to fill for each quarter rather than trying to call a good game. They did get plenty of exercise running up and down the court, however, so kudos for cardio.
The biggest lull (and lol) in the game had to come from the colossal delay brought on by ineffective court moppers. I don't think they had received adequate training prior to the event. The kid with the big round floor mop dropped the mop up and down onto the floor like it was a big rubber stamp. The kid with the towel did a good job of spreading around the sweat, causing an even bigger problem. After 5 minutes of compete fail, Russell Westbrook got impatient and began cleaning the floor himself. Yes, you read right, NBA All-Stars were mopping floors tonight. NBA owners, please, get these guys a real job -- and soon!
Chris Paul: B-.
Paul received the biggest cheers outside of all the players with direct Thunder ties. He also had a pretty good game, too, with a 14 point, 13 rebound, and 25 assist triple double. He also contributed to one of the plays of the night when he sent a bounce pass alley-oop to James Harden for a monster slam. So why only a B-? Well, as nice as his stats were, they were also kind of realistic, and not ridiculously inflated like other players. He could have done that in a real game (a career best game, but an NBA game none the less). That was my only issue. You can't be taken too aback by the assist numbers either, since the entire game was basically a wide open catch and shoot.
Michael "Be Easy" Beasley: B+.
To begin the game, I made the observation that Beasley seemed to be taking his "be easy" moniker a little too far. Instead of attempting to dazzle the crowd with sensational cross overs or tomahawk jams, he seemed more interested in jumpers from the elbow or routine lay-ups / lackluster dunks.
As the game went on though, Beasley made the shocking transition from most lackadaisical to most energetic and caring. It must have been the competitive nature in him. Either that or he finally realized that he could take full advantage of the complete lack of defense if he employed his regular offense. Whatever the reason, this shot of determination helped propel him to a game high 51 points.
King James: A.
In contrast to most players who seemed to be toning their games down for the sake of not , it looked to me like LeBron James was actually toying with everyone the whole time. I'm not being critical of LeBron when I say he probably played at the lowest percentage he's capable. Don't get it confused with laziness though. He basically spent the entire game trying to wow the crowd, which was much appreciated. He had the highlight of the game after passing the ball to himself off the backboard and then slamming it in. He put on a spectacle and scored 40 points despite the fact he clearly wasn't really even trying. I came away impressed.
Kevin Durant: A.
How could I give the man who brought world class (well, sorta) basketball to Oklahoma City during the NBA lock-out anything less than an A? But it's not just about what he did off the court, he played well on the floor as well, He shot 50%, scored 42, and grabbed a game-high 26 rebounds. Though I was slightly disappointed in his shooting from three point land, there was no question who the White Team's go-to scorer was or who was the crowd favorite.
Honey Badger: A-.
It should come as no surprise to Thunder faithful that Russ brought probably the most jaw-dropping dunks to the contest. They're hard to describe, except as some sort of poetic aerial dance performed as a display of athletic superiority. However, he didn't show much growth in his game outside of these dunks. I won't hold that against him though, because no one really showed any growth, it was a pick-up game for crying out loud!
Jeff Green: B-.
It was a treat to see Jeff Green play again, but I don't think his playing style caters to the all-star type game very well. He had few overly impressive plays. Honestly, he seems to make shots at the same rate all the time, rather he's being guarded in the NBA or left wide open in an exhibition game seems to make little difference. He did have a highlight power dunk in overtime that helped seal the game for the White Team, so I will give him props for that.
James Harden: B.
Why am I not surprised that Harden treated this game like a three point shootout? This guy was very trigger happy early in the game, and only seemed to come off of it once it became clear to the Blue Team that Beasley had the hot hand. While I'm thrilled to see some offensive aggression from the bearded one, I wanted to see more of that handle we all know he's got. Break down your defender and go to the hole Harden, your constant open shots made for some boring basketball.
Reggie Jackson: Incomplete.
What did I think of Reggie Jackson's debut in Oklahoma City? Well, there isn't much to think, frankly. He played only 6 minutes, and while he made the most of his time on the court (scoring 10 points) it was also clear he was being fed the ball more than anyone else as well. I refuse to grade the Thunder's draft prospect until he officially suits up in an OKC uniform.
Notable No-Shows: F.
The Oklahoman announced before the game that Amare Stoudemire, Rudy Gay, and Monta Ellis would all participate. None did. Can you think of how much better the game would have been if these guys had played? All of their playing styles seem well suited for the kind of offensive showcase the exhibition game turned in to. And don't even get me started on Blake. I think he should have at least showed up for the game. People bought tickets expressly to see you. Have the courtesy to at least make an appearance.
Team Rosters and Stats
LaMarcus Aldridge: 18 points, 14 rebounds, 29 minutes
Jamal Crawford: 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 29 minutes
Kevin Durant: 42 points, 26 rebounds, 11 assists, 53 minutes
Jeff Green: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 48 minutes
Reggie Jackson: 10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 6 minutes
LeBron James: 40 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 53 minutes
Russell Westbrook: 34 points, 13 rebound, 4 assists, 47 minutes
Carmelo Anthony: 43 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 45 minutes
Micheal Beasley: 51 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 51 minutes
Johnny Flynn: 8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 20 minutes
James Harden: 33 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 51 minutes
Chris Paul: 14 points, 13 rebounds, 25 assists, 49 minutes
Damien Wilkins: 17 points, 1 rebound, 49 minutes