('88 Record: 54-28)
On February 29, 1988, the NBA Roundup in the L.A. Times started with the following:
...It seemed to be every man for himself for the Pistons.
But, in the second half, Isiah Thomas realized he was the playmaker
Thomas is one of the most talented players in the game. But,
maybe he should study his buddy, Magic Johnson, a little more
closely. The first thing the Laker star does in a game is size
up the situation. He finds out who he can free for the easy shot.
As a last resort, he becomes the scorer.
In this game, Thomas seemed intent on creating shots only for
himself. As a result the Pistons were without teamwork in the
first half. They were lucky to be within five points.
Once Thomas began directing the running game, the Pistons started
getting open for good shots....
It was obvious early Sunday at Pontiac, MI, that the Detroit
Pistons, who fell behind and struggled to keep up, were without
a playmaker, a leader.
...It seemed to be every man for himself for the Pistons.
But, in the second half, Isiah Thomas realized he was the playmaker and leader....
Thomas is one of the most talented players in the game. But, maybe he should study his buddy, Magic Johnson, a little more closely. The first thing the Laker star does in a game is size up the situation. He finds out who he can free for the easy shot. As a last resort, he becomes the scorer.
In this game, Thomas seemed intent on creating shots only for himself. As a result the Pistons were without teamwork in the first half. They were lucky to be within five points.
Once Thomas began directing the running game, the Pistons started getting open for good shots....
Ordinarily, the Roundup comes from the wire services, but this one obviously didn't. Dan Hafner occasionally writes the Roundups for the Times and he wrote the one above. Not the typical unbiased, detached, boring, here-are-the-facts approach, but maybe the feelings of the people at the game were represented.
Isiah Thomas-bashing seemed to be fairly common last year. After his poorly-worded or poorly-quoted response to Dennis Rodman's mistake, Thomas was getting attacked by several sources that were silently implying that he was overrated. Another writer for the NBA, Dave DuPree, said that he would have traded Thomas to Houston for Ralph Sampson, letting Joe Dumars run the team. He went on to say that, near the end of a close game, Thomas was 'unpredictable' unlike Magic, who would hit the open man or take the shot.
That was two people who criticized Thomas unusually similarly. All of a sudden, Isiah Thomas the All-Star was Isiah Thomas the Unpredictable.
The rap on Thomas has also been his concentration. From David Bradley's article, 'The Importance of Being Isiah', in the May, 1988 issue of SPORT comes this Chuck Daly quote: "We can beat any team in the league when he's running the team...and his concentration's there."
Apparently, the rap came from a statement Thomas made during his rookie season when he said, "Basketball has got to be simple. There's only so many things you can concentrate on." (Bradley, SPORT)
All this talk about how Thomas is unpredictable, unable to concentrate, and overrated is just that. Talk. The stats say that. Statistics are nice in that they just show effects and not causes. They show that Thomas is very good, not that he is black or white, predictable or unpredictable, focused or flirty.
Thomas doesn't like individual statistics. He said, "The thing that taints basketball is statistics. Because statistics breed selfishness." (Bradley, SPORT) Thomas' individual stats don't need to be used to show that he's great, because his teams' (high school, college, and pro teams') successes show it. His effect on the Pistons has been enormous throughout his career. Before he arrived in Detroit, the team was almost as bad as the Clippers are now. Since then, the Pistons have steadily improved in their offense and defense and have come as close as possible to winning the Championship without actually doing it. The game that that Championship depended on was a game that Thomas couldn't play well for because of a nearly incapacitating ankle injury that will bother him probably for the rest of his career. Winning in Detroit is obviously dependent on Thomas' presence. The offense relies on him to distribute the ball and to shoot it; the defense relies on him to anticipate passes and to get steals. He is an important part of the whole Detroit game.
DuPree's suggestion to trade Thomas to Houston for Sampson was one of the most ludicrous proposals I've ever heard. Sampson isn't needed or probably wanted on the Pistons, while Thomas is both. The starting frontcourt of Detroit is very strong and the only place for Sampson would have been on the bench as a replacement for Laimbeer. The Pistons now have James Edwards doing a very respectable job backing up Laimbeer and Edwards came cheap. Detroit didn't have to give up its combination point guard-shooting guard who will certainly be in the Hall of Fame for a 7'4", 44% shooting, chronically injured center whose best games came many years ago. Not only did Detroit not have to, Detroit couldn't have wanted to. There is absolutely no way that Detroit would have reached the Finals without Thomas and with Sampson. Sampson only could have improved the Detroit defense, which was already second in the league, and could have devastated the offense, which was sixth in the league. Thomas was a leader in making both so good.
I look at Thomas' individual stats and say, "That's a guy I want on my team." I look at the stats of the teams Thomas has played for and say the same thing. I watch Thomas bound up and down the basketball court, shooting, passing, stealing, and smiling and I say, "Who could ask for more?".
Going into the Finals, the Lakers were the favorites, but the Pistons looked a lot better, sweeping through the Eastern playoffs and having very little problem with its opponents since inexplicably going five games with Washington in the first round. They gave one game to the Bulls and lost two games to the Celtics only because they respected them. The Lakers breezed past the Spurs in the opening round, then were taken to the brink of elimination by both the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. Before the series, it appeared to me that Detroit was the better team, but that either team could win.
The first game of the series was in L.A. on Tuesday, June 7. The match up between best friends Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas was getting headlines, with them brushing off the hype by saying that it's just 'a job', but admitting that there was 'more incentive because we are friends'. There was the kiss at half court before the tipoff, then the show started.
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Bill Laimbeer started everything with the tip, which the Lakers won for the first of five times in the series. For an old guy, Abdul-Jabaar seems to win a lot of jump balls. Magic brought the ball to the top on the opening possession, swung it to Worthy, who then gave it back. The ball then went into Abdul-Jabaar, where he put the ball on the floor in preparation for his sky hook, but the refs stopped the action by calling an illegal defense warning on Detroit. That illegal defense call became a usual occurrence in the early parts of games as it was called within the first five minutes of Games One, Three, Four, and Seven. When the Lakers restarted their first possession, the ball went from Worthy to Scott to Magic, where he missed a medium range shot that was rebounded by Rick Mahorn. Mahorn got it to Thomas, who dribbled down the court and was fouled by Scott. Thomas made the two free throws and a run was on. The Lakers choked on their next three possessions, while Detroit kept shooting and scoring. It was 8-0 when Pat Riley called a 20 second timeout to get the Lakers organized. As usual, the timeout worked and the Lakers scored on a shot from Worthy after going by his defender. But the Pistons couldn't be stopped, going to the open men and making shot after shot. They started off the game 6 of 6 from the field until Laimbeer missed a long jumper.
That Detroit opening run set the tone of the whole game. The Pistons were loose, running their slow-down game plan and taking advantage of the Lakers' mistakes apparently caused by fatigue and a tough Detroit defense. At the end of the first quarter, it was 22-21 Pistons as the Lakers scored on their last three possessions and the Pistons got careless, letting the 24 second clock run out and having center James Edwards taking an ill-advised longer shot. The second quarter was all Pistons, scoring on 15 of 24 possessions, forcing an illegal defense technical foul, shooting 15 of 24 from the field, and scoring three points on a possession five times to outscore the Lakers 35-19 in the period. At halftime, it was 57-40 Pistons and the game was out of reach for all intensive purposes. The Lakers got it down to an eight point difference in the third, but Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson got hot, making most every shot they threw up, including a three point prayer from Johnson with the 24 second clock down to 1. The Pistons just maintained in the fourth period and finished with a shocking 105-93 win at the Forum.
The pace of the game was slow, setting the style of the rest of the series, especially Piston wins. The Pistons had 87 possessions and the Lakers had 85. Detroit scored on 49 possessions, while L.A. scored on 45. The scoring possession differential of only four indicated that Detroit was a little lucky to win by 12 points. But they had won and the home court advantage was now theirs.
With their backs up against the wall, the Lakers had to win Game Two. They came out fizzling, missing their first five shots. They did a little better job stopping the Pistons, though, forcing a 24 second clock violation on Detroit's first possession. Detroit seemed intent on really slowing the game down, passing the ball around a little too much at first. If it weren't for Byron Scott's hot shooting early on, Detroit might have succeeded in suffocating the Laker offense. With about five minutes gone, it was Scott: 9 and the Pistons: 6. Worthy took over when the game was tied at 12, scoring 6 of the next 8 and another two just before the end of the quarter. It was 25-20 Lakers after one with both teams doing poorly offensively. The advantage the Lakers had in that first period was that they forced the running game even when the opportunity didn't appear to be there. They missed a lot of shots, but they set the quick tempo for the quickest game of the series.
The second period stayed pretty close until Magic made a driving lay-up and got fouled by Laimbeer for a three point play, making it 40-35 Lakers. For the rest of the period, the Pistons were out of sync, shooting 2 of 7 from the field, committing two turnovers, and missing four straight free throws on their last seven possessions. At the half, it was 49-39 Lakers. The Pistons worked their offense well in the third period, scoring on 60% of their possessions, but they couldn't stop the Lakers from scoring on 67% of their possessions. There was an apparent style conflict on the Pistons as they seemingly couldn't decide whether to slow the game or to try to run to get back into the game. Dick Stockton, in evident reference to offensive styles, said, "Dantley and Thomas don't see eye to eye sometimes." The Lakers had a seven point lead going into the fourth, which they improved to 12 by the end of the game. The Lakers again controlled the pace in the fourth, eventually shaking Detroit with a strong 15-6 run in the last three minutes to make the final 108-96 Lakers.
Both teams had 96 possessions in the game, slow compared to their regular season performances, but the fastest of the whole series. The Laker defense created the pace by forcing turnovers and tough shots. The Laker offense was about one-third free throws, making 35 of 46 from the line and touching off complaints from Chuck Daly that would get louder after Game Three.
Game Three was Magic's 'homecoming' to Detroit. It was the first time his father had seen him in the Finals and his mom had some home cooking to help him get over the flu. The flu and his own winning intensity helped Magic to a great game in leading the Lakers over the Pistons on the road. The pace of the first period was moderate, neither fast like the Lakers like it nor as slow as the Pistons would have wanted it. The Lakers were getting scoring from everyone except Magic and the Pistons were struggling to get something going. Both teams went completely cold in the last three minutes of the period, scoring five points between them. The Lakers scored on only 1 of their last 9 possessions to let the Pistons back in it. After one, it was 23-21 Lakers. The second period was a great quarter as both teams kept fighting to take control. The defenses were forcing the pace and both teams spread the ball around looking for a scoring leader. Magic took control for the Lakers, running the break with Mychal Thompson and scoring himself on a few jumpers. The Pistons countered with their speed team of Dennis Rodman and John Salley. Rodman and Salley were stopping everyone but Magic on defense, then filling the lanes on the break. This Piston team was quite different than the team that used Dantley so much in the half court. The speed team was not as efficient offensively, but could stop the Lakers half court game on defense. When Dantley was in, the Lakers had a hard time stopping him, but the pace slowed, which frustrated the Laker offense. At the end of one half, the Lakers were up 47-46.
The game took a strange turn in the third period, with the Lakers holding the Pistons to 9 scores in 24 possessions and capitalizing on the defensive pressure by scoring 16 times. The Lakers forced long jumpers all period and turned several of the rebounds into fast break points. Dantley's offense was shut down and the Pistons couldn't find another option. The fourth quarter was when Chuck Daly boiled over, drawing two technical fouls and getting kicked out. Then, Bill Laimbeer drew a technical foul, giving Scott his fifth free throw in 45 seconds. Rodman and Salley came in to try to play good defense and to try to run themselves back into the game, but it ended 99-86 Lakers.
Game Three was an awesome defensive show by the Lakers, allowing Detroit to score on only 42 of their 94 possessions. The Lakers had 34 free throw attempts to 12 for the Pistons and Daly complained to the refs, which led to more even free throw numbers for the rest of the series. After shooting only 42%, the Pistons decided to scrap their outside game and to concentrate on getting their inside game going in future games.
Game Four in Detroit began with an interesting statement from Daly, "Magic's too nice. We gotta find a reason to hate Magic. That's the only way to beat him." It was an unusual strategy, but it seemed to pay off. After three very docile games, this was the game that featured the surprising hostilities between Magic and Thomas. All series long, the friendship between the two seemed to keep scuffles from arising among the rest of the players. Then, when the bosom buddies got into a small fight, it seemed that their teammates who were holding them back were almost confused, like kids watching their parents yell at each other even though their parents had always told them to stay out of fights at school.
The game wasn't very interesting, the least interesting game of the whole series. Detroit played well and the Lakers played terribly. Not much to be said about it. The Pistons toyed with the Lakers in the first period, building a seven point lead, then letting them get close, but never losing control of the game. The pace was quick, but that was because Detroit was going through the Lakers' defense like a knife through warm butter. The second period was just as easy for the Pistons, while the Lakers were struggling to stay afloat, hanging in to be down by only seven at half.
After tying the noose in the first half, the Pistons kicked the chair out from below L.A. in the third period, outscoring them 25-14. They gave the Lakers a last meal by giving up three straight scores, then gave up only three points over the next 13 possessions and pulled away to a 77-63 lead. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Charles Barkley broke up the somber monotony with his prediction to be traded by Philadelphia. At the end of the period, it was 83-65 Detroit. The fourth quarter fireworks between Magic and Thomas kept the game watchable, but the fourth period play was just more of the third: the dominating rebounding of the Pistons, the pitiful shooting of the Lakers, and foul city. The teams shot 73 free throws between them for the game and 28 in the quarter, with free throws being L.A.'s only offense and just good supplement to Dantley's drives and Thomas' playmaking for Detroit.
For the game, Detroit scored on 61% of its possessions and held L.A. to scoring on 49% of theirs. The Pistons held the Lakers to 40% shooting and had 35 defensive rebounds to only eight offensive rebounds for the Lakers. The Pistons didn't shoot real well, but they got offensive rebounds and didn't commit turnovers. The pace was fairly average (93 possessions per team) for the series, which was slow. The Piston team that played in Game Four couldn't be beaten by anyone.
Game Five: Happy Birthday to Joshua Isiah Thomas. Brent Musberger came up with his stat of the day, saying that, in NBA Finals tied at 2-2, the team that has won Game Five has gone on to win the Championship 14 of 18 times. The Lakers came out on fire, hotter than that. They won the tip again, got the ball to Magic again, went to Abdul-Jabaar again, who put the ball on the floor again, but they didn't get the illegal defense call this time. So Abdul-Jabaar sunk a sky hook. 2-0. Thomas brought the ball up the court and gave it to Dantley. A.C. Green stole the ball from him, gave it to Magic, who (guess what) ran the break with Worthy taking it in for a lay-up. 4-0. Thomas brought the ball up, gave it to Laimbeer, who gave it back to Thomas, who gave it back to Laimbeer, who got tied up by Magic. Jump ball to the Lakers. Magic brought it up, went to Byron, who hit a long jumper. 6-0. Thomas brought the ball up, gave it to Laimbeer, who gave it to Dantley. Dantley dribbled around looking for a good shot, but didn't get one, deciding to give the ball back to Thomas, who took a dribble, then missed a jumper. Rebound to Abdul-Jabaar, quickly outletting to Magic, who (guess what) ran the break, giving to Worthy on the wing where he found Green for an easy lay-up. 8-0. Thomas brought the ball to half court, then called a 20 second timeout. Then it was Laimbeer to Dumars to Isiah, who dribbled around then got stripped. Magic gave the ball to Scott, who faked the shot then took a dribble for a medium range jump shot. 10-0. Thomas turned the ball over bringing the ball up. Magic rebounded a missed shot by Worthy and got fouled to make two shots. 12-0.
"Ha! You're dead! I'm going home to get some sleep. Hey! Let go of me! I said I want to go home! You're supposed to be dead! I killed you fair and square!" But the Pistons were just playing possum. The Lakers held a three point lead at the end of the first period, but were outscored 27-18 after their opening spurt. Worthy and Green were so desperate to go home that they both picked up two fouls in the first period just so they could sit on the bench. The Pistons thoroughly controlled the second period, scoring on 16 of 20 possessions. Except for two possessions when Edwards missed a shot and turned the ball over, the Pistons scored on each of their first 16 possessions, going to Vinnie Johnson, Adrian Dantley, or whomever was open after running the clock a little. Setting Dantley up in isolation devastated the Lakers' defense. Thomas saw how hot his teammates were and went to the right ones every time. By halftime, it was 59-50 Detroit.
The Lakers tried to come back in the second half, but could not push the pace fast enough. The Pistons kept breaking the Lakers down with relentless offensive rebounding, not allowing fast breaks to get started. The Lakers cut the lead to two at one point, but Dumars came back with a jumper and Magic traveled, breaking the momentum. The Lakers showed their heart just to get close, but they were outmanned by the Pistons, who could go nine deep into their bench. The extra energy and home court advantage of the Pistons outweighed their inexperience and the Lakers' heart at the end, Detroit winning 104-94 and taking a 3-2 lead in the series back to L.A.
That last game in Detroit was exceedingly slow, 86 possessions per team, unheard of in regular season games. The game was very close in almost all respects. Where the game was essentially won was at the free throw line, where both teams had 33 attempts, but Detroit made 28 and L.A. made 19. The Lakers worked on the offensive rebounds and did a lot better than in the previous game, but let Detroit dominate on their offensive boards.
Going into Game Six, Detroit knew that its best chance to be Champs was not to go to Game Seven. After no previous game was decided by less than ten points, Game Six was one to cause heart attacks it was so close. The biggest lead by either team was seven points and the lead changed hands 15 times. This was the game that Thomas sprained his ankle about as badly as it can get, but still hobbled to 25 points in the third quarter and 43 in one of the most amazing games ever. The game started fast and furious with both teams feeling as though they were fighting for their lives. Panic set in whenever the other team got too far ahead or started cutting the lead down. The Pistons went to Thomas on their first possession and he scored on a jumper. The Lakers went to Abdul-Jabaar on their first possession and he scored on a little lay-up. Detroit surprisingly went to Mahorn in their second possession and he followed a short miss with a medium range shot that went in. Abdul-Jabaar turned the ball over on the Lakers' next possession. Thomas quickly brought the ball up, assisting on a short shot by Dumars. A series of seven possessions ended by missed shots and turnovers kept the score at 6-2 Detroit. Dumars dribbled around and hit a long jumper to make it 8-2. Abdul-Jabaar got fouled by Mahorn, his second, the next time down and he made two free throws, making it 8-4. Detroit was already a little frustrated in its offense because Dantley was being double-teamed every time he got the ball. This time down, Dantley got free for a shot near the basket, but he missed it. Green rebounded it, but got anxious and traveled. Laimbeer missed a jumper on Detroit's next possession. The Lakers rebounded and got out on a break, with Worthy finishing it off. 8-6 Detroit. Dumars and Dantley passed the ball back and forth the next time down, with Dantley trying to get something going by taking it to the basket. He got fouled by Green and made two free throws. 10-6 Detroit. Magic and Worthy worked together on the next possession for another lay-up. 10-8 Detroit. Thomas pushed the ball up and delivered to Salley for a lay-up and a foul. He made the free throw and it was 13-8. The Lakers tried to go to Worthy again on their next possession, but he missed. Detroit played stall ball the next time down, launching an errant three pointer late in the 24 seconds, getting the rebound and passing the ball around a while, confused at how to get through the Laker defense. Dumars eventually had the ball stolen by Magic and the Lakers took off on a pass-and-run fast break with Worthy mopping up again. 13-10 Detroit. Detroit passed the ball around a while until Salley tried to dribble and lost it out of bounds. Halfway through the first, it appeared as though both teams were still trying to figure each other out. Detroit was having a hard time solving the Lakers' defense, while the Lakers tried to get the running game going, failing in the half court offense.
The first period went on similarly tentatively. Both teams trying to remember what got them there and holding their breaths that they could hang in there. The first quarter ended at 26-20 Detroit.
In the second period, the Lakers realized that they had to take charge and started attacking the heart of Detroit's defense. They went inside to Thompson several times. Scott cut down low and got an alley-oop from Magic that gave the Lakers a 28-27 lead. Baskets were traded for a couple possessions with both benches doing good jobs offensively. It was 37-36 Detroit when things started to go L.A.'s way. An illegal defense call gave Magic a free throw, then he gave to Worthy for another easy basket. Detroit couldn't counter, trying Dantley and Laimbeer, but neither got anything good. Magic to Worthy again for the Lakers, but this time the shot was longer. Dumars tried to force the offense for Detroit, getting his shot blocked by Abdul-Jabaar. Green rebounded, outletted to Magic, who gave to Cooper for a jumper. Detroit called timeout, presumably to set something up. The Pistons came out with Thomas handling the ball and not doing anything special until getting fouled by Cooper and making two free throws. That started a wave of free throws to finish out the second period, with the Lakers coming out ahead 53-46.
After a defensive battle through two periods, the teams came out ready for the third period. Magic missed a lay-up, rebounded, and missed another. Green got the rebound, went back up to get fouled by Thomas and made one of two from the line. Mahorn scored for the Pistons, then Green for the Lakers. Thomas drew Abdul-Jabaar's second foul and made two free throws. Abdul-Jabaar missed a sky hook. Thomas ran down court, missed a shot, rebounded, then made a shot. Magic dribbled down the court, drew Mahorn's third foul, and made two free throws. Thomas scored again (get used to this). Worthy scored on an assist from Magic. Thomas scored again. Abdul-Jabaar made a little dinker. Detroit stayed away from Thomas for two possessions and didn't score. Neither did L.A. Thomas got a rebound, dribbled up the court, and scored. Scott made a long jumper on a feed from Magic. Thomas dribbled up the court, about ready to do something, then the refs issued an illegal defense warning. Thomas scored anyway. The Lakers couldn't score on their next possession and Scott got hurt on a foul by Thomas. Detroit didn't score their next time up and Thomas actually missed a shot. Worthy turned the ball over on a steal by Thomas. Thomas then scored on a feed from Dumars. Magic drew a foul from Laimbeer on a lay-up, but didn't complete the three point play and got mad at himself. Laimbeer took a jumper at the other end and missed. Green made two free throws after drawing Laimbeer's third foul. Thomas traveled. Magic to Worthy again. Someone other than Thomas (Dantley) scored for Detroit. The Lakers missed an easy shot. Thomas drove the lane, dished to Dumars for an assist, and really messed up his ankle. He tried to get up and limp back to play defense, but the Lakers scored on an assist from Worthy to Thompson. Detroit called timeout to see about Thomas.
The replays showed that Thomas severely sprained his ankle. It looked similar to what Cooper had done earlier in the season. It didn't look as though Thomas was going to play again.
Play resumed and Dantley missed a three pointer. The Lakers scored on two Green free throws, but, Oh My God!, Isiah Thomas came hobbling back into the game. Thomas scored on a medium range jumper. Worthy drew a foul on Thomas away from the ball and made two free throws. V. Johnson started dribbling, but Thomas wanted it and made a jumper over Cooper, drawing a foul. Thomas missed the free throw. The Lakers were still up 76-70. Thomas stole the ball from Thompson, then lost the ball to Worthy, who missed a shot. Dantley scored. Worthy committed a turnover and Rodman scored on an assist from V. Johnson. Thompson drew a foul from Rodman and made one of two. Thomas made a three pointer. Worthy missed, Rodman rebounded, Thomas scored. Green made a jumper. Thomas made another jumper. Magic tossed up the last shot of the period, only to look up to find that his good buddy, Isiah Thomas, had scored 25 points to lead Detroit to an 81-79 lead.
The Lakers were down to their last quarter. If they didn't produce, it was vacation time. Detroit got the ball first, which meant Thomas got the ball. He dribbled up the court and missed a jumper. Maybe the Lakers had a chance if Thomas was finally cold. But Thomas stole the ball from Abdul-Jabaar on the Lakers' first possession. V. Johnson scored on an assist from Laimbeer. 83-79 Detroit. Magic made a lay-up and got fouled by VJ, making it a three point play. 83-82 Detroit. Dantley turned the ball over. Magic missed a shot, but Abdul-Jabaar rebounded and got fouled. Magic got the inbounds pass and eventually got the ball back to Abdul-Jabaar, who got fouled again, this time sending him to the free throw line, where he made two. 84-83 Lakers. Thomas missed another long jumper. Scott missed. VJ missed a long shot and Edwards committed a foul going for the rebound. Timeout.
Magic started back after the timeout. He set up at the top, gave it to Scott, who gave it back. Magic to Worthy. Worthy looked to drive, but settled for a long jumper that went in. 86-83 L.A. Rodman was in the game and the Lakers knew they could foul him and get away with it. Abdul-Jabaar fouled him. Rodman missed two free throws, committing a lane violation on the second. Abdul-Jabaar made a little short shot. 88-83 Lakers. Edwards got a nice pass from VJ for two. 88-85 Lakers. Magic drove for two. 90-85 Lakers. VJ missed a jumper. The Lakers missed two shots, but got the OR's until Magic got fouled and made two. 92-85 Lakers. Thomas hit a jumper. 92-87 Lakers. Magic missed a three pointer. Dantley missed, but Rodman rebounded and was fouled. He incredibly made both. 92-89 Lakers. Scott drew Thomas' fourth foul and made two. 94-89 Lakers. Dantley had his shot blocked by Abdul-Jabaar. Worthy drew a foul from Rodman and made one. 95-89 Lakers. Thomas made another jumper. 95-91 Lakers. Scott turned the ball over out of bounds. Detroit tried to run its offense, then called timeout with 4:24 left.
Laimbeer missed a three pointer to start back. Magic drew Laimbeer's fifth foul and made two free throws. 97-91 Lakers. Dumars to Thomas and back to Dumars for a jumper. 97-93 Lakers. The Lakers half court offense stalled when Abdul-Jabaar missed a sky hook. Dumars missed, but Rodman got another rebound, put the ball back in, got fouled, and made the free throw. 97-96 Lakers. Magic to Worthy, but Worthy lost the ball to Dumars. Thomas missed, but Dantley was fouled going for the rebound and made two free throws to put Detroit up 98-97. The Lakers half court offense stalled again with Magic eventually turning the ball over. Dantley missed a long shot. Abdul-Jabaar rebounded, outletted to Magic, who made a lay-up. Timeout Detroit at 1:37. 99-98 Lakers.
The ball went to Laimbeer, who gave it to Thomas, who scored on a jumper. 100-99 Detroit. Green brought the ball up for the Lakers as Magic was getting too much attention from the Pistons. Worthy got a feed from Magic for a short shot, but Laimbeer blocked it. Dantley got the rebound, went down court, gave it to Thomas, who gave to Dumars, who maneuvered for something, only to get fouled by Abdul-Jabaar, his fifth. Dumars made two free throws to put Detroit up 102-99 with one minute left. Timeout L.A.
The Lakers had to inbound to Scott, who went to Worthy. Worthy looked for a shot, but there was none. He went back to Scott, who looked, then dribbled toward the middle, picked it up, hung in the air, and made a twelve foot runner. 102-101 Detroit with 45 seconds left. Timeout Detroit. Make sure Rodman doesn't get the ball.
Ball in to Laimbeer. Over to Dumars, who dribbled around the side. Back over to Laimbeer, then to Thomas. Thomas dribbled around the left side of the basket and tried a tough jumper that he had made in his amazing third period. This time, it missed and came off to Worthy. Timeout Lakers with 27 seconds left and down 102-101.
In to Abdul-Jabaar. He got it to Magic, who set up on top, looked to Scott. Scott had nothing and gave the ball to Abdul-Jabaar on the right baseline. He turned for the sky hook. Laimbeer went up with him and hit him with the body. The shot missed. Laimbeer gave his last foul to put Abdul-Jabaar on the line. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Bend the knees. Rhythm. Twice. The Lakers went up 103-102 with 14 seconds to play. Timeout Detroit.
Dantley inbounded the ball to Dumars, who seemed to panic when he couldn't get the ball to someone else. He took to the dribble drive. He wasn't going for the foul as much as he wanted the medium range runner to come off the glass with a little more touch. Scott rebounded and tried to run away from the foul, but Rodman got him.
It was eternity at the line. You could see Scott trembling at the line. He wasn't relaxed serious. He was scared serious. The first shot missed badly. No problem. Almost settled down, but not enough. The second shot missed also. The rebound went to Thomas, who was double-teamed and couldn't make an easy pass. It eventually got to Dantley, who couldn't get a shot off.
It was over and the Lakers had sweated to a 103-102 victory at the Forum. The game drained both teams and Game Seven would be a battle of stamina and heart.
The first period of Game Seven was similar to the first period of Game Six as both teams appeared tense. The offenses were forced and quite a few mistakes were made. The pace was slow and Detroit was ahead 23-21 after one. The second period had a couple swings of momentum; the first went the Lakers' way. After the Pistons scored the first basket and the Lakers missed their first, the L.A. started with some pressure defense. A 10-1 run with Cooper and Scott playing main roles ensued. It was 34-28 Lakers when Rodman missed two free throws, giving L.A. a chance to start pulling away. The Laker offense stalled for several possessions, while Detroit slowly worked its way even. Thomas was very active, passing and stealing. With about two minutes left before halftime, the Pistons were up 44-43. Then Thomas got hot and the Lakers went flat. A couple of long jumpers by Thomas and some Laker mistakes gave Detroit a 52-47 lead going into the locker room. All previous games had been won by the team leading at halftime.
Before the third quarter, Chuck Daly said he needed the Pistons to start the second half strongly. That's what he told Pat O'Brien at least, but his team didn't get the message. On the Lakers opening possession, it was Magic to Scott for a slam. Dantley scored for Detroit, but it was all Lakers for the next few minutes. Worthy, Worthy, Worthy, Worthy, Magic, Scott, and it was 60-55 Lakers. Fast breaks all around, coming off missed shots, turnovers, and a made free throw. The Pistons kept the deficit to five by holding the Lakers for a couple possessions. But Worthy grabbed a rebound off a missed Salley shot, then led the break, giving to Scott to finish up. Detroit called timeout, but Laimbeer was concerned that Scott was going to get the crowd to erupt and held him back to draw a technical foul. The Lakers were suddenly up by eight and Scott was on fire. He nailed his next two jumpers, one a three pointer, to give the Lakers a 70-59 lead. The Pistons were trying to lay off Scott at the time because Worthy was beating them, but Worthy and Magic kept finding Scott when he was open. At the same time, the Pistons' offense was struggling against a very active defense. When Rodman came in, he helped the offense by going to the offensive boards and by drawing fouls and making 3 of 4. Dumars and VJ were luke warm shooting and were controlling the offense because everyone else was cold. Rodman and Salley slowed the Lakers' offense, but the only offense they could contribute were Rodman's free throws. At the end of three quarters, the Lakers were up 83-73, just one well-played quarter away from a repeat championship.
The fourth quarter was when the Pistons came roaring back. They spotted the Lakers another five points on a Magic jumper and a Cooper three pointer, called timeout, and the rush was on. They tried to get Thomas to play, but his ankle wouldn't let him go for more than one possession. Thompson missed a shot for the Lakers. Laimbeer rebounded, then went to Rodman, who found Salley driving for a lay-up. Thompson made a shot for the Lakers, but their problem was becoming stopping the Pistons. Laimbeer made a shot. Rodman stole the ball from Worthy. Dumars missed, but Laimbeer got the OR. Rodman missed and Salley committed a loose ball foul. Thompson traveled for the Lakers. Salley got an assist from VJ. Abdul-Jabaar's sky hook went in. VJ made the last mistake the Pistons would make for quite a while when he turned the ball over on a charge. Thompson scored for the Lakers. VJ tried to get back quickly with a long jumper that missed, but the Lakers were lazy on the defensive glass and let Laimbeer put the rebound back in. The next time back, Salley took the ball to the basket, scored, and drew a foul, completing the three point play. Worthy tried to hold back the tide with his score, but VJ came back with a driving score. The Lakers were beginning to worry and play better, but the Pistons were coming harder. Cooper tried to cover VJ, but got lost for a slight instant, freeing VJ for a shot, which he missed. Cooper and Salley got tied up on the rebound. Detroit won the tip and VJ lit it up from outside. The Lakers got two offensive rebounds their next time down, but missed three shots. Dumars made two free throws on a foul by Cooper, bringing the score to 96-90 Lakers. Magic made a hook shot, but the Lakers continued to let the Pistons do what they wanted offensively. Salley hit two free throws, Laimbeer hit a jumper, Rodman hit a shot. VJ hit another of his jumpers and Dumars hit one before the Lakers finally stopped Detroit's run of ten straight scores. The lead was down to 102-100 Lakers with under two minutes left. Magic made one of two free throws, then teams exchanged turnovers. Under a minute left. Worthy turned the ball over and VJ brought the ball up, spotting Rodman going to the basket. Rodman, instead of going for a lay-up, put up an awkward shot from about fifteen feet that missed and fell into Scott's hands. Chuck Daly couldn't believe it; there was nothing he could do but keep hoping. Scott got fouled by Salley with 30 seconds left, in the hopes that he would miss under the pressure as he had done the game before. He sank both free throws and the Pistons somehow had to overcome a 105-100 deficit in 30 seconds.
There was no leader on the court for the Pistons, no Isiah Thomas. Laimbeer didn't get a shot. VJ looked, but gave it to Dumars. Magic stole the ball. Cooper was then fouled, but missed two free throws, giving the Pistons 20 seconds to make up five points. VJ didn't care if he didn't have an easy shot because he shot it anyway. It worked because Dumars slipped down low to get the OR and two points. Worthy got the inbounds pass and was immediately fouled. The first free throw bricked, but the second one fell, to give the Lakers four points to work with. Dumars brought the ball up in a hurry, gave it to VJ, who saw Laimbeer open. Laimbeer uncorked a three pointer to bring the game to one point. Quicker than you could blink, the Lakers got the ball into Magic and Pistons started rushing to foul him. But he saw Green on the other end of the court for an easy clinching lay-up. 108-105 Lakers and it was all over.
The Pistons played great ball, slowing the game down as far as possible. They outrebounded the Lakers and had fewer turnovers. They even outscored them for the whole series. But the Lakers won it. The Lakers won it in a combination of Piston and Laker style. They had to learn to play slow and patient ball, but also forced the running game when they needed to. They had to rely on half court offensive weapons besides Abdul-Jabaar. The Pistons just didn't have the experience to go along with their skills and strategies. Now, the experience is also there.
Basketball Hoopla, © 1988, L. Dean Oliver