America’s Team!

On a night when an NFL team that has been known by the nickname that adorns the top of this column, it was an NBA team that was on the verge of ignominious history that was being watched by not only the country, but, as it appears, the world.

How else can you explain that when one Googles stories for what went down in Motown tonight, while the city’s NFL division champion Lions were narrowly losing a potential playoff preview with that other America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys, that is was the BBC that provided this narrative?:

The Detroit Pistons narrowly avoided unwanted history as they ended their 28-match losing streak with victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Cade Cunningham scored 30 points and made 12 assists as the Pistons edged a 129-127 win – their first in the NBA since 28 October.

Their 28th defeat had equalled the longest losing run in NBA history.

A loss to the Raptors would have matched the longest losing streak in major US professional sports history.

That record is held by NFL team the Chicago Cardinals – now the Arizona Cardinals – who fell to 29 successive losses between 1942 and 1945.

Yep, even across the pond sports fans cared.  And on the heels of Thursday night’s crushing defeat in Boston at the hands of the NBA-best Celtics, an overtime loss in which Detroit had led by 21 points in the first half, that ultimately allowed the Pistons to tie the NBA’s all-time futility streak, set by the Philadelphia 76ers across the last two games of 2013-14 and the first 26 of 2014-15, the scrutiny and attention of basketball fans around the globe had mushroomed.

But for once, the Pistons had more than a few factors in their favor.  For one, they were returning home, where their fan base has been remarkably supportive and strong throughout the last two months, enduring the snarky jokes that typically revolved around the fact that a major league baseball team whose season had ended at the beginning of the previous month had won a game more recently than had Detroit.  For another, the Raptors were facing significant issues of their own and had been coming off their own demoralizing loss to Boston, as CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn reminded:

(T)he Raptors played an incredibly competitive game on the road against the shorthanded Celtics. Boston ultimately won that one 120-118, and Toronto’s core of Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes all played at least 37 minutes in that loss. To make matters even more difficult for Toronto, the Raptors were shorthanded thanks to a blockbuster trade. Mere hours before tipoff, Toronto dealt OG AnunobyPrecious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks. That left the Raptors sorely shorthanded.

And with the Pistons fully rested, that allowed Cunningham, the Victor Wembanyama of 2021, to finally take center stage.  His 30-point, 10-assist and zero-turnover effort was the first by a Piston since Chauncey Billups, one of the stars of the most recent Pistons teams to compete for an NBA title.  Clutch shooting down the stretch from the likes of Kevin Knox, Alec Burks and Bojan Bogdonovic also helped, and Detroit needed every one of those points.  Despite their compromised state, Toronto held on relentlessly down the stretch, cutting leads as large as 11 points in the final two minutes down to the eventual two-point margin, hitting clutch 3s of their own.  Finally, with the possibility of a steal under their own basket that could have allowed Toronto to send Detroit to a second consecutive overtime, they successfully inbounded, sealing a win that actually brought their winning percentage to over .100 for the first time in 14 games.

As Quinn added, while the relief that head coach Monty Williams felt afterwards was palpable, their challenges as 2024 starts are daunting.

Detroit will begin a four-game Western Conference road trip on Monday, and three of their opponents in that window, the RocketsWarriors and Nuggets, figure to be difficult opponents. The fourth, the Jazz, are less imposing, but they are 6-4 in their last 10 and have a strong home-court advantage due to the altitude in Utah.

And still looming in the distance is the reality check that they’re still on a pace to break the all-time worst record in league history for a full season, the 1972-73 of that same totrtured 76ers franchise (who went 9-73). and even if they double their current win total they’d still fall short of the seven that the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats mustered in a strike-shortened season where they only lost 59 games.

The British fans will probably be following that storyline, and now that they’re a part of this narrative, Canadian fans will probably be paying attention too.  And considering the likes of Knox and Bogdanovic have been mentioned frequently as trade bait, they may very well be following what unfolds from afar in the not too distant future.

But hey, at least for the waning momenrs of this year, Detroit fans can take solace that they’re not in the history books on their own.  And for ghoulish NBA fans hoping to see negative history, sawry.  Blame Canada.

Courage…

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