I’d like to take this time right now to talk about a little place called Tony’s Pizza Spot on DeKalb Avenue in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.
Tony’s Pizza Spot is an aptly named hole-in-the-wall, scrunched between a bodega and a Crown Fried Chicken, that’s existed on DeKalb since before time itself. It may have popped up in the 70s, or 80s, or earlier, but it feels like it’s been there forever. There is no place to sit and no place to loiter. You can order a pie at a window that faces the street, or step inside to a cramped hallway about fifteen feet long that leads to a broken Pac-Man machine. The walls at Tony’s Pizza Spot are littered with posters from a past era, talking about gooey cheeses and Jamaican beef patties (which he sells, with or without cheese, with or without cocoa bread.)
The place is run by one man, an older Italian man named Tony. Tony is a well-known man in the neighborhood despite never being seen away from his pizza oven. He has a devoted clientele, replete with people of all ages, sizes, creeds, and colors. He has no definite hours. I presume he lives in the apartment above the pizza spot and goes down whenever he thinks it’s lunchtime. I have never heard anyone complain.
Tony has no employees and does not deliver. He entrusts his pizza with no man but himself. You can call Tony’s Pizza Spot at any time when it’s open and may not get anyone to answer the phone for minutes. That’s because Tony has no employees, and he focuses on his pizza. He would rather serve his best than his most.
As for the pie, it is classically New York Pizza. Tony serves a cheesy, greasy, topping-enriched mess served on a paper plate too flimsy to hold it. You ask for mushrooms and he’ll dump them on by the truckload; ask for more than one topping and you might as well get two slices and try to make a sandwich. It may not be the best pizza in New York, but it’s my absolute favorite. I eat it and I feel like I’m eating the invention of pizza itself. I’m teleported to a land of nothing but edible happiness, where people enjoy meals together and buzzer-beating losses to tanking basketball teams don’t exist.
You might ask: why have I spent this much time talking about Tony’s Pizza Spot during a recap of Nets-Sixers? In return, I ask you this: which would you rather read about?
It came down to this. A terrible game, defined by a lack of defense and effort, ended in heartbreak for the Brooklyn Nets. After a Paul Pierce three-pointer put the Nets up 120-119 with 16.9 seconds left in the overtime period, Philadelphia 76ers guard Evan Turner fired a tough game-winning layup over Pierce’s outstretched arms; the ball caromed around the rim, dancing in the air before falling through the net well after the buzzer sounded.
The loss dropped the Nets to 9-17, eight games below .500, and it was the first time they’d lost with a lead after three quarters. “We’re bottom feeders,” Pierce fired after the game.
The Nets, across the board, pointed to a lack of effort, and a lack of understanding. Each of the four members of the team to speak with the media after the game — forward Pierce, guard Alan Anderson, guard Deron Williams, and coach Jason Kidd — had more questions than answers about why a veteran team that entered the season with championship aspirations can’t defend for 24 seconds on the shot clock, can’t defend for 48 minutes on the game clock, and can’t defend both the paint and the three-point line at the same time in a single game.
This season’s defensive strategy hasn’t been complicated, but it’s been pick your poison. The Nets can either close out on shooters, limiting three-point attempts, or they can pack the paint effectively, limiting inside shots. They haven’t been able to do both.
The Nets have struggled all season running out to shooters, and adjusted their defensive gameplan to counter that issue. Instead of dropping deep into the paint to help, they instead stayed much closer to their assignments on the perimeter. The change limited Philadelphia, one of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams as it is, to a putrid 9-29 effort from beyond the arc.
But it came with a trade-off: the Nets, already a weak rebounding team, were demolished in the paint and on the glass, allowing 66 points in the paint and 12 offensive rebounds that led to 21 second-chance points. The Sixers ended the game with 100 — yes, 100 — field goal attempts, fifteen more than the Nets, and 50 of them came from within 5 feet. You read that right: half of Philadelphia’s field goal attempts came from the most coveted area on the floor.
There were positives. Alan Anderson played his best game in a Nets uniform, with a season-high 26 points, five three-pointers, and some key defensive plays down the stretch. Mirza Teletovic tied his career high with five three-pointers in the game’s first eighteen minutes and eventually broke through to six in the second half. Paul Pierce hit some enormous shots down the stretch, most notably that three-pointer that, if only for a moment, put the Nets in a position to win.
But while the role players starred, the stars got steamrolled. Deron Williams bemoaned his own effort after the game, questioning his and his team’s confidence after lackadaisical turnovers and missed opportunities in the fourth quarter and overtime. The 50 shots in the paint is a major indictment on Lopez, whose sluggish help defense was no match for slashers Tony Wroten, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young, and whose anemic rebounding was exposed without Kevin Garnett cleaning up behind him.
It only seemed fitting that, on the game-winning shot, Turner turned the corner around Lopez to get his look at the basket. Lopez played Turner about as well as he could, but was held back by his own slow feet as Turner flew past him for the shot that sent Wells Fargo Center into a frenzy.
This is getting depressing. Let’s all just go to Tony’s.