Saturday, July 16, 2011

Detroit Pistons vs. Portland Trailblazers, Game 5, 1990 NBA Finals

With the NBA lockout proceeding with no end in sight, I once again found myself wanting to watch some old-school basketball action. So I did a quick search, and decided to watch Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals between the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trailblazers. Detroit came into the game with a 3-1 lead, needing only one more win to win their second straight NBA Title. Which is what they did, as Detroit pulled out another close game in a series full of them, winning by the score of 92-90. A couple of interesting notes about this game. One is that this was the first finals since 1979 to not feature either the Lakers or Celtics, and two, this was the last NBA game broadcast by CBS, and unless CBS can somehow outbid ESPN/ABC anytime soon, it looks like that will continue to be the case for a while. A few notes about this game:

- The hero of this game turned out to be Vinnie Johnson, nicknamed "The Microwave" because of his ability to get hot quickly. Well, that's what he did here. After doing next to nothing for the first three quarters, Johnson suddenly started to catch fire in the fourth, hitting jumper after jumper Early in the fourth quarter, Johnson scored all the points in a Pistons 9-0 run that gave Detroit a one point lead. When Portland rallied to lead 90-83 with just over two minutes left. Johnson went to work again, scoring 7 of the last nine points for the Pistons, including the game winning jumper with just .7 seconds left on the clock. Johnson scored all 16 of his points in the fourth quarter, which just shows what kind of player he was, a clutch shooter who could carry the Pistons on offense for long stretches.

- Of course, Johnson wouldn't have been in the position to carry his team down the stretch without the play of Isiah Thomas. While the rest of the Pistons struggled in the first half, Thomas took the team on his back and dragged the Pistons to a four point lead at halftime, thanks to 20 first-half points, with 15 coming in the first quarter. Thomas struggled a bit in the second half and spent much of the fourth quarter on the bench while Johnson and Joe Dumars took over the backcourt duties, but he came through when the Pistons needed him, draining an 18 footer to tie the game at 90 with less than a minute remaining, then forcing a turnover by Portland's Terry Porter on the other end. Overall, Thomas scored 29 points, and after the game, he would be named the Finals MVP.

- The Trailblazers played on the Pistons' level for much of the ballgame, but just couldn't come through when they needed a basket the most. It didn't help when their big gun, Clyde Drexler, fouled out, leaving Portland with a backcourt of Porter and Danny Young. For the game, Drexler scored 20 points, though there were long stretches where he would seem to disappear, especially in the first half. Portland's leading scorers in the game were Kevin Duckworth and Terry Porter with 21 points apiece. Duckworth was especially impressive in the first half (14 points) and for a man that weighed 275 pounds, Duckworth had great feet and mobilitiy in the low post. Eventually, the Pistons would collapse on Duckworth and force him to take a bad shot, but for a while there Detroit had no answers for him. As for Porter, his 21 points included 4 three pointers, although the 89% free-throw shooter missed a few key free throws down the stretch and was just awful in the last two minutes, turning the ball over twice.

- The Pistons of this era were known for there rough and aggressive style of play, and they showcased that style in this game. However, the Trailblazers didn't exactly back down, and any team with Buck Williams and Jerome Kersey in their lineup would have to be considered tough. In fact, in this game it was the Pistons that came out the worst for the wear. Johnson had to leave the game for a period after banging knees with Jerome Kersey, James Edwards suffered a cut over his eye after a hard foul, Bill Laimbeer suffered various scratches and bruises, and Isiah Thomas had to leave the game after a Scott-Stevens like check from Cliff Robinson on a pick opened up a cut on Thomas's forehead (a play that somehow the refs didn't call a foul on). There were 35 fouls over all, and there could have been at least 20 more. As for Laimbeer, well, I can see why he was one of the most hated players in the NBA around this time. The guy would complain after every call as if the refs just stole his car, even it was obvious that he committed the foul. At least he didn't flop around like a fish in this game, and his 17 rebounds were a game high.

- After watching crowd after crowd covered in white T-shirts or blue T-shirts or whatever and showing very little enthusiasm throughout the 2011 playoffs, it was refreshing to see a crowd that was actually into the game from beginning to end without relying on gimmicks. The Portland crowd in this game was much like a college crowd, cheering feverishly after every basket and trying to rile the Pistons when they had the ball. Alas, it was all for naught, but much like the Trailblazers themselves, the crowd left it all out there.

After this series, the NBA moved on to NBC, and a six-minute video package of the greatest moments of the NBA on CBS played ending with Marvin Gaye's rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. It was quite a video package, actually, featuring everything for Gar Heard's shot in the 1976 Finals to Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis. The Pistons' postgame celebration was also shown, and featured Mark Aguirre shouting "G** D***" four times in succession, and John Salley wrapping things by proclaiming it's Hammer Time. The next year, both clubs returned to their respective Conference Finals, only to fall to the Bulls and Lakers. The Trailblazers would make it back to the Finals in 1992, only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Bulls, while the Pistons wouldn't get back to the finals until 2004. In some ways, this was the end of the Detroit "Bad Boys" dynasty, as the team just wasn't the same the next year. But it was a nice run, as the Pistons became only the third team in NBA History to win back-to-back NBA Championships. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this post, or ideas for future posts, then share those thoughts with me either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at

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