by Ryan ZumMallen | photos Mike Guardabascio
Forget summer basketball. Forget Baron Davis coaching in green chinos, the three 50-point scorers and an on-court cat daddy dance from James Harden and Kevin Durant.
The Big Payback in Long Beach was the closest thing to NBA basketball that we may see for some time.
Sure, the L.A.-bred Drew League’s 151-144 victory over D.C.’s Goodman League to even their ongoing series was, in many ways, a summer league game like the others that NBA players have been ruling on courts all over the country for the past four months. The tempo was breakneck, the defense was spotty. But there were plenty of major differences between The Big Payback and your everyday run at the Rucker.
In front of a capacity 5,000-plus crowd, the pros battled for a victory that clearly meant more than just bragging rights. They fouled to prevent layups, stuck to offensive gameplans and wailed over missed opportunities. They also haggled with referees who clearly took their duties seriously—Michael Beasley fouled out and technicals were called on Matt Barnes and John Wall—blowing the whistle so often that fans cheered when the ball was inbounded. We could have used the dead ball time to end 10 lockouts.
We even had celebrity sightings, with local legend Clipper Darrell heckling the Goodman League like they stood between Blake Griffin and the O’Brien trophy.
Thunder forward James Harden led the Drew, Euro-stepping and free-throwing his way to 48 points. Wall scored an electrifying game high 55 and Kevin Durant continued his run as King of the Summer with 50 for the Goodman.
The best matchups were the same as those in Drew/Goodman I: Harden and Durant trading blows while Wall and Brandon Jennings dazzled with their lightning handles and reckless attacks on the basket. And though it was the visitors that put up more points, it was the home squad that stuck together and came up with key plays when they needed them.
Goodman did not go quietly. In one of his first games of the summer since recovering from a shoulder injury, Rudy Gay looked strong as he crashed the boards and threw home several two-handed jams. The lead almost never exceeded ten points and Goodman took the lead more than once, but in the end the L.A. squad threw an assembly line of small forwards onto the floor that Goodman couldn’t match.
Barnes and Trevor Ariza—hometown favorites that received massive ovations—hassled Durant and contested his signature long bombs, showing the roster depth that gave Drew a decided advantage. Nick Young added silky jumpers in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Javale McGee and rookie Derrick Williams also suited up for Drew.
Afterwards, the visitors called for a tie-breaking Round III as they steamed about the loss and what they believed were… ahem… hometown calls that favored Drew.
“We’re going somewhere in the middle,” said Durant. “I still think D.C.’s better, we’ll see. [Round III] would be cool. I want to beat them.”
They also noted that several of the Goodman players flew across the country earlier in the day just for the game.
“A loss is a loss but we need a neutral spot,” said Wall. “It’s one-one right now.”
On the hometown side, players were soaking in the glow of victory and weaving through crowds of “Sign this!” and “Remember me?” Though he didn’t play, Baron Davis said he would be more than willing to meet Goodman’s demand for a third and final game.
“Yeah,” he said. “Hell yeah.”
Demar DeRozan said the victory felt good on familiar soil.
“The crowd was great, it was definitely exciting to be out there,” he said. “The fans miss basketball as much as us, so we’re just giving it back to them. This is what it’s all about at the end of the day.”
Each and every pro did their best to dance around questions about the lockout. It was late in the first quarter when word from the Twittersphere reached the Pyramid that both sides were perhaps making progress in Sunday night negotiations. It seems now that we’re in for another painful week of talks and non-talks. Which begs the question: If the lockout continues to drag on, how many more of these star-studded exhibitions will we see?
Whatever happens next, Dorrell Wright echoed his teammates and committed to a three-quel.
“They’re working on it right now, so if they do it, it’s on.”