When you watch a game at the Palace, what strikes you is the emphasis on Detroit. The pump-up video the arena shows before the game centers on Detroit. The billboards and slogans you see driving around the area center around Detroit. You don't hear "Let's go Pistons"; you hear "Detroit basketball". The marketing around the team isn't around the Pistons; it's around the city itself. That's somewhat ironic given the team plays in Auburn Hills, not Detroit, but it's also striking to see the team wholeheartedly embrace Detroit. I was at the Palace on a fairly nondescript night; low attendance, the team seemed tired, didn't play well and lost. On a night like that, the emphasis on Detroit was what stood out and made the Palace a unique and different experience.
Atmosphere: 3.5/10: As cool as it was to see a team embrace a city in that way, the cold hard fact is that the city of Detroit didn't exactly embrace the Pistons the night I was there. The reported attendance was 17,857 and that seems pretty generous. The stands looked half-empty at all times, nobody really got into the game (not that the Pistons gave them reason to do so), and things were generally dead. The only real positive in this category came from the PA announcer, who has to be one of the better PA announcers in sports given his enthusiasm. If only that enthusiasm was shared by the fans.
Quality of Facility: 9/10: The Palace, if nothing else, was a great place to watch a game. Our seats, in the second deck, felt pretty close to the action and even the Jumbotron was really new and almost overbearingly large. Getting to the seats was easy and I even caught a foam mini-basketball that they launched into the crowd. And I never catch anything launched into the crowd. The closest I've ever come was a foul ball that bounced off of my dad's seat at a 2009 Yankees-A's game and a ball that I leaned over the Rays' bullpen at a Spring Training game and begged them to give me a long time ago. The fact that I remember both of those instances and even the date of one should tell you all you need to know about how close I usually am to any object that goes into the crowd. You can imagine my surprise when, while a cannon was launching these balls into the crowd, I turned around to see that one them had found its way to the back of my seat. I'm sure it will never happen again, but at least I have that story to tell.
Quality of Game: 4/10: The game was never close as the Pistons trailed by double-digits for essentially the entire game. At one point things seemed as though they may get interesting as the Pistons cut Atlanta's lead to around 10, but the Hawks quickly stifled the comeback. The only positive of this was that Andre Drummond shot just 9 free throws as Mike Budenholzer had no need to use Hack-a-Shaq liberally given that the Hawks were comfortably in the lead. The Pistons missed a lot of open threes, as a team they were 7/29 on the night which particularly hurt them given that Atlanta readily helped off the weak side no matter who was there. Detroit's lack of ability to make that shot really hurt them, especially when Stanley Johnson was on the court as the Hawks essentially ignored him when he was standing in the corner. Johnson is on my list of players who need to shoot 1,000 shots a day this summer and develop a 3-pointer in order to take the next step and be more successful (the biggest name on that unofficial list: Ben Simmons). If teams play him like that in the playoffs (assuming Detroit gets to the first round), Johnson will be borderline unplayable, as will Steve Blake who is somehow averaging 16.7 cringe-worthy minutes per game this season. Why the Pistons didn't try to include C.J. Watson in the Tobias Harris deal is beyond me.
Other Things to do in the Neighborhood: 5.5/10: Auburn Hills is decently out of the way if you're staying in Detroit which makes seeing the Pistons a pain. However, there is good food in the area (we found a solid pizza place 5 minutes from the Palace) and the parking is easy. Additionally, we passed by an outlet mall that I'm sure some people would be enthusiastic to visit. There's certainly enough to do in Auburn Hills, but the stadium not being in Detroit itself hurts this score (and probably attendance as well).
Random Jersey Sighting of the Day:
A Grant Hill throwback! Per sportslogos.net, the Pistons wore this jersey from 1996-97 to 2000-01. Hill played for the Pistons for four of those five years, earning three All-Star appearances over that span and averaging 22.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game. In 96-97 he led the league in VORP, had a 25.5 PER and 36.0 assist percentage. It's easy to forget how good Hill was before he got hurt. Basketball-Reference's similarity scores have him as most similar to (in this order): Chris Mullin, Ben Wallace, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Shawn Kemp. Ironically, Tracy McGrady, another star whose career simply wasn't as well-remembered as it could have been, is also on that list.
Overall: 22/40: The Palace was solid, but the lack of people in the stands and the fairly pedestrian game hurt the experience.