Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Night After Christmas

After a long day of watching basketball on TV on Christmas day, I was back inside the Verizon Center the next night for a showdown between the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference, the 6-23 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 3-22 Washington Wizards. The Cavs had been without their star point guard Kyrie Irving for 11 games already this season, and to add insult to injury the Duke product suffered a broken bone in his jaw against the Milwaukee Bucks, causing him to sport a protective face mask ever since. The Cavs were also without Brazilian center Anderson Varejao due to a bruised right knee.
Cleveland fan supports the Cavs in a D.C. cafe

The Wizards, on the other hand, who'd been without their star John Wall for the entire season, were just looking for a win, something they had not accomplished since December 11th in New Orleans.
Verizon Center two hours before tip-off

I arrived at the arena at 4:30 again, expecting to be let in early, but was told to wait in the lobby until 5:00. Apparently fan photographers aren't allowed to be in the building too early, even though I was granted entrance at a quarter til 5 for Saturday's game against the Pistons. Nonetheless, I was able to use my own personal camera to get some shots of some of the players warming up. I saw some of the Cavaliers players involved in a 3-on-3 game with their assistant coaches, which was really more of a training session. Back-up big men Samardo Samuels and Jon Leuer seemed to be giving one another all they could handle in the post. On the other side of the court, Cartier Martin and Bradley Beal were putting up as many shots as they could before game-time. Assistant coach Sam Cassell was taking just as many. I went upstairs to the storage room where I pick up my camera, and was told by my supervisor to aim for around 200 shots for the night. Piece of cake. I went back down by the court, and with a half-hour left until fans would begin entering the arena, saw who would be the biggest star in tonight's game, Kyrie Irving. He wasn't on the court for that long, but dribbled up and down the sideline a couple times, before taking a few jump-shots. Then he went back to the locker room, not to be seen until about 10 minutes before tip when all the players take the floor for pregame warmups. I noticed a kid with an Anderson Varejao Brazil jersey waiting patiently for his countryman to emerge from the locker room, before being ushered back to his seats a couple of levels up from the court. I saw Wizards fans take pictures with Martell Webster, Emeka Okafor, and Jordan Crawford, longing to be close to the players they had seen on TV.
3-on-3: Cavs forward Samardo Samuels posts up guard Jeremy Pargo
Cavs forward Omri Casspi, the first Israeli in the NBA

By the start of the first quarter, I had already taken 71 pictures, all with the court in the backdrop, which is a more marketable shot for Printroom, the contracted photography company responsible for getting me this close to the pregame festivities. By halftime, I was up to 150 shots for the night, so I was right on pace, but the game was pretty close so there weren't too many fans roaming the concourses during the third and fourth quarters looking for pictures. A spurt of quick pictures towards the end of the game, coupled with a second half trip to the club level bar, got me up 212 shots for the night. I returned to the office, and dropped off my camera only to hear a roar from the crowd. I took a look outside to see the Wizards down by 3 with just over 7 seconds left and no timeouts. Jordan Crawford dribbled the ball all the way up court off the inbound, pulled up and clanked a 3-pointer off the back iron. The Cavs narrowly escaped for an 87-84 win behind Kyrie Irving's 26 points and 8 assists. Emeka Okafor had a big night for the Wizards with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Jordan Crawford, who leads the Wizards in scoring for the season chipped in 17 points off the bench, despite missing the game winner. Crawford had been relegated to a bench role for the game, after showing up late for pregame shoot around. He was replaced in the starting lineup by former Butler University standout Shelvin Mack.  Cleveland picked up their 2nd straight win, while the Wizards continued their slide, dropping their 8th straight game.