Cavaliers Fans Invade the Palace
At least, I think that's what happened, because make no mistake, the Cavaliers played a home game as they clinched their first-round series with the Pistons, complete with "M-V-P" chants every time LeBron James took a free throw and loud boos when the Pistons tried to rally late. "It was a little bit amazing, to be honest," said Mo Williams after the game. "Coming out to warm up, you hear all those Cavs fans there and it was kind of a joke going around the locker room, 'Hey man, we're at the Q!' ... I mean, I've never experienced something like that in my life."
Said Delonte West: "We came out of the tunnel to a standing ovation. And normally you come into a hostile environment and you hear boos and name-calling, but we came out to a standing ovation. There were numerous times where we made a shot where you just heard more cheers than boos. That does wonders to a team's confidence."
The Palace was once considered a hostile environment, but not so much lately. The Pistons had their consecutive sellout streak of 259 games snapped in February, and tickets late in the regular season could be had for as little as $5 on sites such as StubHub.com. After the Pistons got destroyed during their first two games of the series in Cleveland, the prospects of paying good money to see the final vestiges of the team's most disappointing season in a decade was an awfully hard sell ... at least if you live in Michigan.
Considering the Ohio border is a scant hour and a half drive from the Palace -- and Cleveland a mere two hours beyond that -- Cavaliers fans turned out en masse, jumping on the chance to see their favorite team clinch a series for dirt cheap. The schedule worked in Cleveland's favor, as well -- a 3:30 PM tip-off gave fans plenty of time to make a day trip without the hassle getting up early or going to bed late.
"You have to give our fans credit for tonight as well as for showing up," Ben Wallace said. "They came out and made it comfortable for us to play. I'm pretty sure it wasn't all their fans cheering for the Cavs."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Friday that the Pistons sent an e-mail to Cavaliers season-ticket holders offering tickets to Games 3 and 4, which may suggest that the Pistons got what was coming to them on Sunday. From my conversations with Pistons officials, though, I'm told only a small number of tickets were offered, and that the practice is both common and frequently reciprocated. Besides, savvy fans wouldn't have bothered getting tickets through official channels -- tickets for Friday's game were going for as little as $11 on StubHub.com the morning of the game.
Regardless of how Cleveland fans got their tickets, what's certain is that they did. From my vantage point, I'd say the arena started out 50-50 in support of each team, but as the game wore on, support overwhelmingly tilted in Cleveland's favor as Detroit fans left early and Cavs fans had more reason to cheer.
Cavs players spent timeouts late in the fourth quarter pointing and waving in appreciation to the friendly crowd. As players left the court after the game, the fans surrounding the Cavs tunnel serenaded LeBron with more "M-V-P" cheers, while the crowd surrounding the Pistons tunnel heckled the home team while waving inflatable brooms and LeBron jerseys. Having attended well over 200 Pistons games both as a fan and a member of the press, it was something I never thought I'd ever see, though one the Pistons will certainly never forget.
Antonio McDyess, one of the few Pistons to actually show up with 26 points and 10 boards, spent the final two minutes of the game on the bench with a towel over his head and his hands over his ears. As he explained later in the locker room, "It was just embarrassing for me just to hear the fans rooting against us in our own arena."