Facing ex-teammates yields mixed results
Oklahoma City — There probably isn’t enough vitriol to call it a Revenge Tour, but the Pistons have had a few games in the past couple weeks that have had some extra juice to them.
With so much roster turnover since the start of last season, many of the players have had games against their former teams. On the West Coast road trip, Marcus Morris played against his twin brother, Markieff, when the Pistons played the Suns. Ersan Ilyasova got to play against his former team, the Bucks, on Monday.
It’s sometimes a difficult task to go against former teammates — and it yields mixed results.
“They’re emotional moments and you don’t know how each guy is going to handle them,” coach Stan Van Gundy said before Friday’s game. “These guys are all human beings; they’re not robots we put out on the court.”
Their game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena provided maybe one of the more difficult matchups, with point guard Reggie Jackson facing his former team. For much of the season, it’s been feast-or-famine for the Pistons based on Jackson’s play, so having him focused for a road game against the Thunder was a key for Van Gundy.
“Hopefully, he’ll be able to just go play his game but I don’t think necessarily going to be really easy,” Van Gundy said.
While there’s plenty of emotion, it’s sometimes fighting mentally against trying to do too much and blocking the crowd out. In Jackson’s case, the Thunder fans booed each time he touched the ball in the first quarter.
But he had a flurry of six points in five minutes, before picking up his second foul and heading to the bench.
In Morris’ case, it didn’t seem to be a big deal — and he even lobbed a few verbal volleys at the Suns’ fans, asserting they didn’t know what they were booing for. He had a good game, with 20 points and six rebounds.
For Ilyasova, it was a struggle. He went 0-of-7 from the field and went scoreless. Given the individual nature, it’s a hit-or-miss proposition of how each player handles it.
“You never know…did it factor into Ersan going 0-for-7 in Milwaukee or was it just a bad game?” Van Gundy said. “You don’t know. Guys have just got to try to deal with it the best they can.”
McGary learning from stars
Forward Mitch McGary, a former Michigan standout, is trying to make the most of his time with the Thunder.
In his second season, he has been hobbled by some injuries, twisting his ankle and missing five of the last six games, but he’s just grateful for the opportunity to play with a good core that includes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“It’s crazy to think you have two top-five players on one team,” McGary said. “Just being in the same locker room with them is cool, to ask them anything, from ball-screen defense to coverages to what a play is if it slips my mind.”
McGary said both gave him some good advice during his rookie season, including just being an energy guy and having an impact on the game. It helped him get rid of some of the nerves and be a key contributor.
With some luck and good health, he’s looking to build on a good first year with a better sophomore campaign.
“When I was healthy last year and started playing, that’s what they were saying: Just bring energy on the court and change the momentum of the game,” he said.