NBA Finals - Game 7
1988: Detroit Pistons @ Los Angeles Lakers
It was not enough for Coach Pat Riley that his Lakers won the NBA championship in 1987, their third in six years.
  • When asked if his team could repeat–something that hadn't been done since the 1968-69 Celtics–he replied, "I guarantee it."
  • Beginning with training camp, Riley drove his veteran team like a man pos­sessed. But he was sensitive enough to know when to lighten up.
  • The Lakers' top eight scorers from 1986-87 returned: Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, A.C. Green, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thompson, and Kurt Rambis.

The '87-88 Lakers won 62 games, three fewer than the year before, but still won the Pacific Division by nine games over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Detroit Pistons had a driven coach too.

  • Chuck Daly came to Detroit for the 1983-84 season and immediately im­proved the Pistons from 37 wins to 49.
  • They had a winning record in each of his four years but couldn't reach the Eastern Finals until 1986-87 when they lost to the Celtics in seven games.
  • The Pistons finally broke through in '88 when they toppled the Celtics for the East title in six games despite not having home court advantage.

Just as the Lakers were Magic Johnson's team, the Pistons belonged to Isiah Thomas.

  • The quick point guard from Indiana directed his team, as Magic did the Lakers, since his rookie season in 1981-82.
  • The Pistons put more pieces in place over the next six years until they finally reached the finals.
  • Where Riley was intense and professorial, Daly was subdued and fatherly. He could get angry occasionally, but he gave his players, especially Thomas, room to breathe.

The Pistons hung their hat on their physical, aggressive defense.

  • The team reveled in the nickname "Bad Boys," which they earned because of numerous fines for altercations on the court.
  • They considered themselves the "Oakland Raiders of the NBA."
  • The #1 "Bad Boy" was C Bill Laimbeer, described as "a tough-minded re­bounder who wasn't opposed to giving hard fouls on defense."
  • "Bad Boy #2" was F Rick Mahorn, whom some regarded as one of the league's best low-post defenders and others considered a thug.
  • Detroit's leading scorer was F Adrian Dantley (20.0ppg), a half-point ahead of Thomas. Next came G Joe Dumars (14.2).
  • All factors pointed to the Pistons being a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Team W L % GB
Boston Celtics 57 25 .695 --
Washington Bullets 38 44 .463 19
New York Knicks 38 44 .463 19
Philadelphia 76ers 36 46 .439 21
New Jersey Nets 19 63 .232 38
Central Division
Team W L % GB
Detroit Pistons 54 28 .659 --
Chicago Bulls 50 32 .610 4
Atlanta Hawks 50 32 .610 4
Milwaukee Bucks 42 40 .512 12
Cleveland Cavaliers 42 40 .512 12
Indiana Pacers 38 44 .463 16
Western Conference
Midwest Division
Team W L % GB
Denver Nuggets 54 28 .659 --
Dallas Mavericks 53 29 .646 1
Utah Jazz 47 35 .573 7
Houston Rockets 46 36 .561 8
San Antonio Spurs 31 51 .367 23
Sacramento Kings 24 58 .293 30
Pacific Division
Team W L % GB
Los Angeles Lakers 62 20 .756 --
Portland Trail Blazers 53 29 .646 9
Seattle Supersonics 44 38 .537 18
Phoenix Suns 28 54 .341 34
Golden State Warriors 20 62 .244 42
Los Angeles Clippers 17 65 .207 45

Eastern Conference First Round
Pistons over Bullets 3-2
Celtics over Knicks 3-1
Bulls over Cavaliers 3-2
Hawks over Bucks 3-2

Western Conference First Round
Lakers over Spurs 3-0
Mavericks over Rockets 3-1
Jazz over Trail Blazers 3-1
Nuggets over Supersonics 3-2
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Pistons over Bulls 4-1
Celtics over Hawks 4-3
Western Conference Semifinals
Mavericks over Nuggets 4-2
Lakers over Jazz 4-3
Eastern Conference Finals
Pistons over Celtics 4-2
Western Conference Finals
Lakers over Mavericks 4-3

Neither team coasted into the finals.

  • The Lakers swept the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs but had to go the full seven games to dispose of the Utah Jazz in the Western semifinals. The Dallas Mavericks also forced the Lakers to Game 7 in a finals series in which the home team won every game.
  • Since the Celtics had the best record in the East, the road to the Finals would go through the Boston Garden. The Pistons had to go the full five games to take out the Bullets in the first round before zipping past the Bulls in five games to get another shot at the Celtics. The key game was the fifth in Bos­ton with the teams tied 2-2. The Pistons staged a big second-half comeback, then finished off the Celts in Detroit in Game 6.
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
1 Wes Matthews PG 6-1 170 Wisconsin 8
4 Byron Scott G 6-3 195 Arizona State 5
20 Milt Wagner SG 6-5 185 Louisville 2
21 Michael Cooper G 6-5 170 New Mexico 10
31 Kurt Rambis F 6-8 215 Santa Clara 7
32 Magic Johnson G 6-8 215 Michigan State 9
33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar C 7-2 225 UCLA 19
35 Tony Campbell SF 6-7 215 Ohio State 4
42 James Worthy F 6-9 225 North Carolina 6
43 Mychal Thompson C 6-10 225 Minnesota 9
45 A. C. Green PF 6-9 220 Oregon State 3
52 Mike Smrek C 7-0 250 Canisius 3
Coach: Pat Riley
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
4 Joe Dumars SG 6-3 190 McNeese State 3
10 Dennis Rodman SF 6-7 210 SE Oklahoma State 2
11 Isiah Thomas PG 6-1 180 Indiana 7
15 Vinnie Johnson SG 6-2 200 Baylor 9
22 John Salley C 6-11 230 Georgia Tech 2
23 Walker Russell PG 6-5 195 Houston/W. Michigan 6
35 Ralph Lewis SG 6-6 200 La Salle 1
40 Bill Laimbeer C 6-11 245 Notre Dame 8
42 Chuck Nevitt C 7-5 215 North Carolina State 5
44 Rick Mahorn PF 6-10 240 Hampton 8
45 Adrian Dantley SF 6-6 210 Notre Dame 12
53 James Edwards C 7-0 225 Washington 11
Coach: Chuck Daly
# Date Place Winner Loser Winning Team
High Scorer
Losing Team
High Scorer
1 June 7 Los Angeles Pistons 105 Lakers 93 Dantley 34 Johnson 28
2 June 9 Los Angeles Lakers 108 Pistons 96 Worthy 26 Dantley 19
3 June 12 Detroit Lakers 99 Pistons 86 Worthy 24 Thomas 28
4 June 14 Detroit Pistons 111 Lakers 86 Dantley 27 Johnson 23
5 June 16 Detroit Pistons 104 Lakers 94 Dantley 25 Abdul-Jabbar 26
6 June 19 Los Angeles Lakers 103 Pistons 102 Worthy 28 Thomas 43

Writers overwhelmingly predicted a Lakers victory in the finals, with most agreeing it would take only six games. They underestimated the determination of the Pistons.

  • Game One: Adrian Dantley hit an amazing 14 of 16 shots from the floor for 34 points to lead Detroit to a surprisingly easy 105-93 victory. Reporters wrote that the Lakers resembled the Celtics–old and tired.
  • Game Two: Magic Johnson came down with the flu but, with his team needing a win to avoid going to Detroit down 0-2, scored 23 points as the Lakers reversed Game One's 12-point loss with a 12-point victory. "I don't think there's any doubt Earvin Johnson showed the heart of a champion," said Coach Riley. "He was weak, very weak."
  • Game Three: Before 39,188 in the vast Silverdome, the Lakers won 99-86 as all five starter scored in double figures led by James Worthy's 24. Most of the damage was done in the third quarter when LA shot 64% to outscore the Pistons 31-18.
  • Game Four: Isiah Thomas spent hours in bed or a hot tub with a lower back bruise suffered in Game Three. But like Magic in Game 2, Isiah played and helped the Pistons even the series with a 111-86 victory. Coach Daly switched defensive specialist Dennis Rodman onto Johnson who blunted Magic's ability to penetrate and dish.
Silverdome action
A. C. Green guards Adrian Dantley
  • Game Five: Needing to win to avoid going back to California down 3-2, the Pistons outscored the Lakers 32-20 in the second quarter on their way to a 104-94 triumph. Detroit outrebounded the Lakers 53-31 in the last game the Pistons in the Superdome before moving to their new arena the next season.
  • Game Six: Back at the Forum, the Lakers stayed alive but just barely. The Pistons trailed 56-48 in the third quarter before Isiah scored the next 14 points. But a few minutes later, he landed on Michael Cooper's foot and suffered a sprained ankle. But he returned 35 seconds later and continued the onslaught, setting a Finals record with 25 points in the quarter to give the Pistons an 81-79 lead. With a minute left in the game, they still led 102-99. The championship trophy was wheeled into the Pistons locker room and iced champagne brought in. But Byron Scott hit a jumper to cut the lead to one and Thomas missed an 18-footer. With 0:14 on the clock, Abdul-Jabbar set up for his patented skyhook from the baseline, but Laimbeer was whistled for a foul. The LA captain made both shots for a one-point lead. Joe Dumars took the final shot for Detroit but missed, and the Lakers got the rebound to force Game Seven.
Game Six action

Isiah Thomas scores between A. C. Green and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Game Seven

Isiah Thomas arrived at the Forum on crutches during the afternoon but started the game.

  • Quarter 1
    Detroit scored just two points in the first 3:50 but persisted i pushing the ball inside until they ran off eight consecutive points, including six by Adrian Dantley, to lead 10-7.
    The lead changed hands four more times, and the score was tied twice before Joe Dumars hit a three-pointer, and Dantley converted a three-point play for a 23-19 Detroit advantage.
    Pistons 23 Lakers 21

  • Quarter 2
    The Pistons led 26-23 early in the second period before Worthy started an 11-2 run with a turnaround move in the lane for two of his nine points in the period. His three-point play gave the Lakers a 34-28 lead.
    Coach Riley said afterward, "We lost our patience and poise in the first six minutes of the second quarter."
    The result was a 24-13 run by the Pistons that ended with Thomas dribbling unchallenged down the floor for a basket to put Detroit up by five when the horn sounded.
    Abdul-Jabbar finished the half scoreless. Magic Johnson had as many turnovers (three) as baskets.
    Pistons 52 Lakers 47
Game Seven action

Worthy guards Vinnie Johnson while Magic guards Rodman.
  • Quarter 3
    Magic said afterward: "We wanted to stop throwing the ball away. We had 11 turnovers in the first half. We'd been averaging 11 a game. We wanted to establish our game in the first three minutes [of the third quarter]. Let them know, 'We're here.'"
    The Lakers did just that, sinking their first 10 shots to go up by 10. Scott, who scored only two points in the first half, set the tone by throwing down a thunder dunk over Laimbeer on a fast break. Worthy scored seven straight points. Cooper, who had been in a series-long shooting slump, knocked down a three-pointer, and Scott poured in 11, including a three-pointer that finished a 23-7 Laker run that gave them a 70-59 lead. The first shot the Lakers missed was a Scott airball with 5:05 left.
    "They seized the game with their ferocious defense," said Coach Daly. "At that point, I said, 'Lights out, and it could get worse.' But we went to our speed team, and we got back into it."
    The Pistons would have to come back without Thomas, who could go no more after giving all he could for 28 minutes.
    Lakers 83 Pistons 73
  • Quarter 4
    The Lakers' advantage climbed to 94-79 before the visitors mounted a surge in the last seven minutes with both Thomas and Adrian Dantley on the bench. John Salley scored 10 in the period, most of them coming in heavy traffic.
    In a four-minute span, Detroit outscored the Lakers 17-4 to pull within two, 98-96, after Laimbeer blocked a pass by Abdul-Jabbar and sent Dennis Rodman down the court for an easy layup.
    Magic missed a spinning layup attempt, but Worthy tipped the ball back in. But Vinnie Johnson answered with a jumper to make it a two-point game again.
    After a pair of free throws by Magic, Laimbeer dove to the floor to save a loose ball, and Dumars hit a jumper that cut the margin to 102-100 with 1:18 left.
    With LA ahead by three, Laimbeer blocked Worthy's shot, and the ball went to Rodman, who elected to pull up for a jumper on the break instead of driving to the basket as Daly went crazy on the Detroit bench. Scott rebounded the miss, then made two free throws with 30 seconds left.
    Cooper made things difficult for LA by missing two free throws, and Dumars sank a layup to make it 105-102 with 16 seconds left.
    Two seconds later, Worthy was fouled, but he made just one, his 36th point.
    Laimbeer's three-pointer with six seconds left made it a one-point game. But Johnson avoided getting fouled and threw a length-of-the-court pass to A.C. Green for a breakaway layup that finished off the Pistons.

Pat Riley

Isiah Thomas and Chuck Daly

Magic Johnson

Bill Laimbeer

Rick Mahorn

Adrian Dantley

Joe Dumars

Johnson vs Thomas

Coach Riley draws up a play.

Byron Scott guards Isiah.

Isiah Thomas's injured ankle

Game 6: Thomas shoots despite injured ankle.

Game 6: Thomas scores during his sensational third quarter.

Game 6: Thomas injures his ankle.

Game 6: Jabbar hooks over Laimbeer–phantom call play?

Magic and Isiah kiss before Game 7.

Game 7: Rodman guards Worthy.

Game 7: Worthy grabs rebound from Laimbeer.

Player Min FG2 FG3 FT Rebs Ast Stl Blk TOV Fouls Points
Joe Dumars 41 9-18 1-2 6-6 5 4 1 0 3 5 25
Adrian Dantley 31 5-11 0-0 6-8 5 1 2 0 3 2 16
Bill Laimbeer 31 5-9 1-2 0-0 9 2 3 1 0 4 1
Isiah Thomas 28 4-12 0-1 2-2 0 7 4 o 3 5 22
Rick Mahorn 3 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
John Salley 36 6-9 0-0 5-7 10 1 1 1 1 2 17
Dennis Rodman 30 5-8 0-0 5-10 5 0 2 0 0 5 15
Vinnie Johnson 27 5-14 0-2 0-0 2 5 0 0 1 1 10
James Edwards 13 0-2 0-0 1-2 3 2 0 0 0 2 1
Total 240 39-85 2-7 25-35 39 22 13 2 11 23 105
Player Min FG2 FG3 FT Rebs Ast Stl Blk TOV Fouls Points
James Worthy 44 5-22 0-0 6-10 16 10 0 0 5 2 36
Magic Johnson 40 6-9 0-1 7-8 5 14 2 0 4 5 19
Byron Scott 37 7-12 1-3 6-6 3 0 1 0 3 2 21
A.C. Green 33 2-4 0-0 0-0 2 0 1 0 1 2 4
K. Abdul-Jabbar 29 2-7 0-0 0-0 3 2 0 1 3 5 4
Michael Cooper 28 5-13 2-6 0-2 5 3 0 0 0 2 12
Mychal Thompson 22 6-10 0-0 0-1 4 1 0 0 1 3 12
Kurt Rambis 7 0-0 0-0 0-0 3 0 0 0 1 1 0
Total 240 43-77 3-10 19-27 41 30 6 1 18 22 108
James Worthy, who just completed the first triple double of his career, was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Series.


Lakers Locker Room

  • Coach Riley was drenched in champagne when he faced the press. "I don't have any feelings left just now. I feel raw for them. At the end of the game, what were we doing? We were watching a great basketball team hold on. We were holding on, and we had a big enough lead to do so." He said that this was the Lakers' greatest championship, one for which he would replace his 1985 ring–earned in Boston Garden–with this one. "I'll guarantee one thing. We're going to enjoy ourselves."
    He harkened back to his preseason guarantee of a repeat championship. "That was the bed we made for ourselves, and the players were great about it. I never read or saw anyone say anything negative about it. They may have thought it, but they didn't say it." When a reporter asked Riley if he would guarantee three in a row, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a towel and stuffed it in his coach's mouth. "I didn't give him a chance to say anything," Kareem said.
  • Magic Johnson said this was the most difficult season of his life. "I just hope I don't see him (Coach Riley) on vacation again this summer," he said, referring to his meeting Riley on a beach in the Bahamas a year ago when Riley made his guarantee. "This was the hardest championship season, not just because we went to seven games three times. Playing against Isiah in a championship is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do–trying to stay away from each other, trying not to be friends. ... I know Isiah. His heart is as big as this room."
  • Michael Cooper also said he didn't want Riley to make any more promises. "If he says anything like that, I'll stick my fist so far down his throat he won't be able to talk for a week."
  • James Worthy, who was almost traded to the Dallas Mavericks two years earlier, said Magic should have received the MVP trophy "because he was so consistent every night." He added, "I had to make an adjustment in my game in January. I couldn't just explode off the dotted lines and jump over people like I'd been doing for 5 years. I had to take a couple of moves and just forget them. It took me 2 1/2 or three years to get used to Magic's unusual style of play. And I think he had to get used to me after all that time with Jamaal."
  • Kareem had a disappointing four-point, three-rebound, five-foul performance. "I'm so proud of this team. I feel that this win will give us the respect I think we've deserved over the last eight or nine years and, frankly, this is the toughest playoffs I've ever played in. It was more dramatic than last year when we ended up with just three losses throughout the playoffs."

Pistons Locker Room

  • Coach Daly: "Give credit to the Lakers. They did what they said they would do. They did repeat."
  • Bill Laimbeer: "We believe we have a team that can win a championship. They were the best team this year and last year. We got beat. We gave it our best shot but we lost. Still, I think our teams are even. The ball bounces different ways sometimes, and tonight it bounced their way."
  • Dennis Rodman: "We will be back next year. I hope that throughout all of this we've gained the respect of the American people and proved that we're a hard-working team and a team to be reckoned with in the future."
Participants in the 1984 NBA Finals who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame:
Pistons: Coach Chuck Daly, Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas
Lakers: Coach Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy
1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers

1987-88 Detroit Pistons