AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Antonio McDyess returned to the NBA arena he once called home Tuesday night, and it was like something out of Hollywood.
But not exactly in a good way.
“It was like ‘Semi-Pro,’ like Jackie Moon,” McDyess said, referring to the Will Ferrell film about a fictional fly-by-night team based in nearby Flint. “It was crazy, because it was so dead in here.”
A half-full and mostly uninterested Palace at Auburn Hills watched the Spurs pull away late for a 100-89 victory over the once-proud Pistons, with crowd noise rarely reaching the level of “low hum.”
All that was missing was an Afro’ed Ben Wallace wrestling a bear, unless you count his battle with Spurs center DeJuan Blair — in which case, Blair (18 points, 12 rebounds) won by TKO.
Tony Parker had 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting and seven assists, Blair supplied his typical two-hour energy shot, and Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson and a newly healthy Matt Bonner made key fourth-quarter 3-pointers to help the Spurs improve to 3-1 on their rodeo trip.
“It’s about grinding away, imposing your will over a team for 48 minutes,” Jefferson said. “We win a lot of games ? in that 48th minute because we continue to press on.”
The Spurs’ nine-game trip presses on tonight in Toronto. Tuesday, the Spurs improved to an NBA-leading 43-8 by overcoming the atmosphere as much as the Pistons.
An official count pegged attendance at 16,132, but impartial observers estimated the number to be about half that. At times, it sounded as if even the crickets had gone home.
Had all fans been allowed to scrunch into the lower levels, bombastic P.A. announcer John Mason wouldn’t have needed his microphone.
“Not to see the crowd we used to have in here, it was a little awkward,” said McDyess, who spent six seasons with the Pistons between 2004-09, including a trip to the Finals in ’05. “It was odd.”
At first, the Spurs played down to their surroundings. For much of the first half, they looked like a team at the end of an 11-night stretch on the road, not the beginning.
Their pick-and-roll defense was a step late. Passes were the opposite of crisp. The Pistons seemed to get more than their share of 50-50 balls.
At halftime, the Pistons (19-33) were still in the game, down 52-51, with the Spurs struggling to summon a knockout blow.
It finally came midway through the fourth quarter, after Detroit’s Will Bynum — who had 12 of his 21 points in the frame – intercepted Gary Neal and raced for a layup that pulled the Pistons within two at 76-74.
With six minutes left, Ginobili — 0 for 3 from 3-point range to that point and 2 for 7 overall — finally made one from 25 feet to nudge the Spurs’ lead to five. Bonner, shaking off the sore knee that caused him to miss the previous 10 games, buried another three out of a timeout. Ginobili bookended the sequence with a step-back three for a nine-point lead, the Spurs’ largest to that point.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, meanwhile, pointed to his team’s decision to play a little defense as the game’s turning point. Detroit managed just 38 points after the half, including a 15-point third quarter.
“Our defense fueled a little bit of pace,” Popovich said. “We got it up the court, then made some threes.”
For McDyess, the return was bittersweet. He added six points and seven rebounds to the Spurs’ 43rd victory but could not escape the emptiness of the arena he once called home.
After the game, McDyess hung around to chat with fans and security guards. He hugged Tayshaun Prince and nuzzled Richard Hamilton’s beard.
And then, with both knees wrapped in ice, McDyess walked to the visitor’s locker room, then to the Spurs’ bus and off to better things.
A Hollywood ending, with just a tinge of survivor’s guilt.