Rod Beard talks about the Pistons' first preseason game at Little Caesars Arena. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Detroit — It was like a reunion of high school friends, in a brand new high school.
Oh, and there was a basketball game, too.
With smiles and hugs and oohs and aahs, Pistons fans reconvened at the team's new home, Little Caesars Arena, on Wednesday night for the preseason opener. It’s the first game since the Pistons played their final game at The Palace in April and moved to downtown Detroit to share the shiny new arena with the Red Wings.
Some of the longtime season-ticketholders had seen the new arena on various tours, but others still were checking out the new features, including the wider, airier concourses and cozier, closer seating near courtside.
The excitement grew, as the Pistons got out to a hot start and led most of the game but gave up the lead in the final five minutes, falling to the Charlotte Hornets, 108-106.
“It was good. It’ll be a lot better in two weeks,” Van Gundy said. “It was good to get in the building and play — our guys were excited about it.”
The games get real on Oct. 18, when the Pistons open the regular season, again against the Hornets, at Little Caesars Arena.
Wednesday’s test run was every bit an exhibition, from the impressive first quarter, when the Pistons jumped out to a 32-27 lead, to the bizarre third quarter, in which they were outscored, 35-16, had more turnovers than field goals and coughed up an 18-point halftime lead.
Andre Drummond had a typical stat line with 16 points and 15 rebounds, but an atypical night at the free-throw line, hitting 6 of 8 — and showing his newfound form from months of offseason work.
Avery Bradley had 14 points in his Pistons debut and Tobias Harris added 13 points and nine rebounds.
While many fans were focused on their early glimpse of the Pistons, scores of others meandered around the concourse, getting their first opportunity to see the inside of Little Caesars Arena and the many new restaurants and displays dotted around the facility.
With a lot of fans exploring, the seats looked about half-full in the arena at times, but the official attendance was 13,882 — a long way from the 21,000 capacity, but still good for a preseason weekday matchup.
It's all still new, with even the Pistons players seemingly getting used to their new abode, marveling at their recently completed locker room.
“It’s dope. The turnout was obviously a preseason and it was really exciting. I can’t wait for the first game,” Drummond said. “(The locker room) is huge; I get lost trying to find the showers.”
In his postgame comments, Van Gundy seemed to have the best of both worlds: a game in which his team played well enough for him to praise it, but poorly enough in the second half to give them plenty to work on in film study and practice on Thursday, prepping for Friday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.
“This is almost perfect as a coach: players gain the confidence in that if we play a certain way, moving the ball and playing hard defensively, we can be very good,” Van Gundy said. “When we didn’t match their effort — their effort was higher than ours in the second half — then we’re not very good.”
Playing without starting point guard Reggie Jackson, who was held out because of a sore groin, the Pistons jumped to a 9-2 lead in the first three minutes, behind a jumper by Bradley and a lay-in by Drummond. Stanley Johnson added a jumper and Harris hit a 3-pointer, energizing the crowd that was watching the Pistons on a regular home court in Detroit for the first time since the Cobo Arena era in 1978.
The Hornets trimmed the 18-point lead to one by the end of the third quarter and moved ahead at the 4:12 mark on a 3-pointer by Malik Monk. Harris answered with a three-point play but got a technical foul and gave the lead back when Monk made the free throw.
The Pistons had a chance to take the lead with less than 10 seconds left, but Harris turned the ball over, driving to the basket past Frank Kaminsky but losing the ball.
“If you look at what happened on the scoreboard, they got the better end of that,” Van Gundy said. “We got the technical foul, so we gave away a point there and it became a one-on-one game with the time going down.”