There are many memorable performances in the 74-year history of the Detroit Pistons. In 1971, Dave Bing scored 54 points in a loss to the Chicago Bulls. Ben Wallace recorded a career-high 10 blocks in 2002, a 79-68 victory over the Miami Heat. In 2018, Blake Griffin recorded 50 points and 14 rebounds in an overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The most iconic of these performances came in the big games. These moments in Pistons history often came in the postseason, where Detroit’s legends made their mark on the game. The following three performances are just a few of the most celebrated individual performances in Pistons history.
Isiah Thomas’ dominant feat of will: Game six of the 1988 NBA Finals
“One of the best we’ve ever seen… in #NBA75 finals history”
1988 NBA Finals – @DetroitPistons Isiah Thomas scored 25 points in 1 quarter on a sprained ankle
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— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) March 6, 2022
Detroit entered game six of the 1988 Finals with a 3-2 series lead over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pistons trailed 56-48 early in the third quarter when Isiah Thomas took over the game. The Hall of Fame point guard scored 14 points for Detroit and singlehandedly brought the team back into the game. But with nearly four minutes left in the quarter, Thomas came down on Michael Cooper‘s foot and sprained his ankle. The Pistons legend had to be helped off the court.
Despite the severity of his ankle sprain, Thomas quickly returned to the court and continued to dominate the Lakers. By the end of the quarter, Thomas had racked up 25 points and set the NBA Finals record for most points scored in a single quarter. 11 of those 25 points came after the injury.
Thomas clearly felt the injury. The superstar limped around the court and heavily favored his healthy leg. More than once he could be seen jumping on just one leg after a shot. Playing through the pain, Thomas was incredibly efficient in that third quarter. He sank 11 of his 13 shots from the floor. His eruption of points gave Detroit a 81-79 lead over the Lakers heading into the fourth quarter.
Detroit came up short
Thomas finished the game with 43 points, eight assists and six steals while shooting 56.3 percent from the floor and 66 percent from beyond the arc. Despite Thomas’ dominance in the third quarter, the Pistons fell short of victory. Detroit lost 103-102 after the infamous phantom foul call against Bill Laimbeer gave Kareem Abdul-Jabbar two shots at the line to give the Lakers the win. Thomas gave it a go in game seven but was not nearly as effective, and the Pistons lost the series.
Detroit may not have won game six, but Thomas’ third quarter feat on an injured ankle has gone down as not only one of the greatest individual performances of Pistons history but NBA history as well.
Chauncey Billups’ clutch performance: Game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals
Chauncey Billups has hit more than his fair share of clutch buckets; he is ‘Mr. Big Shot’ after all. The clutch basket most synonymous with Billups came in game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With 11.6 seconds remaining in the game with New Jersey leading 87-85, Nets star Jason Kidd was sent to the free throw line. The point guard missed both of his shots from the charity stripe. In transition, Billups drove to the basket for a layup, but his shot was blocked by Richard Jefferson. The Nets’ Kerry Kittles collected the rebound, and Detroit was forced to foul again with 2.9 seconds left in the game.
Kittles missed the first shot from the charity stripe but knocked down the second. With no timeouts remaining for Detroit, the Pistons did not have the chance to draw up a final play. The ball was inbounded to Billups who quickly got to halfcourt. ‘Mr. Big Shot’ pulled up from just across the timeline and heaved the ball towards the basket. The ball banked into the net as the game clock hit zero. Billups tied the score 88-88 and sent the game into overtime.
Game five went into triple overtime. Billups finished the game with 31 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Detroit ultimately fell short 127-120, and the Nets took a 3-2 series lead. But Detroit managed to win the final two games, including a 22 point outing from Billups in game seven. Billups and the Pistons lost game five, but his half-court heave at the end of regulation is one of the defining performances in the ‘Going to Work’ era of Pistons basketball.
Joe Dumars’ most memorable performance: Game three of the 1990 NBA Finals
This performance by Joe Dumars gave Detroit a 2-1 series lead over the Portland Trailblazers. The Hall of Fame guard scored 33 points in Detroit’s 121-106 victory over Portland. Dumars was incredibly efficient in the game as well. He knocked down 11 of his 22 shots from the floor, including two of three shots from three-point range. He knocked down all nine of his attempts from the free-throw line as well.
Dumars was the key contributor in Detroit’s win over the Trailblazers, a win that came after Portland managed to tie the series at one win apiece in game two.
Dumars’ father passed during game three. Teammates like Thomas later commented that some of the shots Dumars made in his game three performance looked impossible to make. On one of Dumars’ most improbable makes, Thomas recalled thinking ” Your father put that one in, Joe.”
Game three of the 1990 NBA Finals was just the best performance of Dumars’ excellent series. Dumars played the most minutes of any Piston in the 1990 Finals. Detroit won the series 4-1. While Dumars won the 1989 Finals MVP award the previous season, his game three performance against the Trailblazers became his most memorable game of his Hall of Fame career.
(Featured Image Credit: ROBERT DEUTSCH / USA TODAY NETWORK)
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