by | Jun 13, 1988 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It was as if someone spun the globe and we all landed in enemy territory again. Here was Chuck Daly, ejected, storming off the court, and Isiah Thomas, rejected, lying on the floor, and Magic Johnson — who plays for the other guys, remember — fuel-injected, whipping passes and swishing hook shots as if Pontiac were La-La Land and the Silverdome his own purple palace.

Whose court is it, anyway? Can we do this over? Jack. Jesse. All you celebs. Take Two. This really isn’t the way we play basketball here in Detroit.

“You could feel something strange as we came out of our locker room after halftime,” said Bill Laimbeer in the aftermath of Sunday’s embarrassing 99-86 defeat in Game 3 of the NBA final. “We just didn’t have the go-go-go. We let down. And they kept right on going.”

And going and going. For all we know, the Lakers are still out there, running lay-ups in the dark. In the first NBA championship game ever played in Michigan, the Lakers ran the Pistons ragged. They left the Pistons flat. They should have had “See You Later” stitched on the back of their jerseys. They lead this series now, 2-1, and have recaptured the home court advantage in a single humid afternoon.

And Detroit? Oh boy. The shots clanged. The shots whiffed. It seemed like the only thing to go in for the Pistons was Daly. To the showers. Early. He was thrown out by referee Earl Strom with 5:05 to go.

DALY: Come on, it was three seconds, Earl!

STROM: Sit your bleep down!

DALY: Aw, bleep, come on!

STROM: Technical! Technical! OUT!

That was pretty much the exchange. We cleaned it up a bit. Daly had been fuming at Strom all game for what he felt was a lack of whistles — particularly when Adrian Dantley had the ball. And he was right about that. Once during the fourth quarter, Dantley went up into two Lakers who more than reached out and touched him. The call: jump ball. What’s going on? Does AD owe Strom money or something?

“I went the whole game and go to the free-throw line once?” said a frustrated Dantley (14 points), normally a foul-shooting fixture. “Hey. I know that I was getting fouled. They beat us, sure. But I took a whipping out there.”

He shook his head and looked around. Sitting nearby were Bill Laimbeer
(5-for-12) and Joe Dumars (4-for-10) and Vinnie Johnson (3-for-11).

Join the club.

And know this: The foul calls were not the reason the Pistons lost this game. The refs were annoying, frustrating, but just another needle on the porcupine that was Game 3.

The Lakers won this with defense, much the way the Pistons won Game 1 in the Forum. They forced Detroit into bad shots, and the Pistons obliged by shooting poorly. A one-point lead at halftime was a nine-point lead less than three minutes later. The missed Detroit shots sparked the Lakers’ fast break the way a starter’s pistol sparks Carl Lewis. Lay-up. Lay-up. Lay-up. Three Lakers downcourt to every two Pistons trailing. A close game was grabbed, squeezed, and packed away by the Lakers pretty much before they ever played the fourth quarter.

“We were really ready, we’re here to play,” said Johnson, who scored 18 points and dished 14 assists, some of which must have been on sense of smell.


Did someone say homecoming?

Johnson was playing before his father, Earvin Sr., who lives in Lansing and was watching his son play for the first time in a championship game. In the Lakers locker room after the win was fried chicken, pasta salad and vegetables, all prepared by Magic’s mother, Christine.

Whose court is it, anyway?

Not Detroit’s. Not on Sunday. They lost their shot, they lost their cool, and, let’s be honest, they lost a little poise, too. Not that you can blame them. You don’t really want to hear the third-quarter stats, do you?

The Lakers scored 31 points, and only two baskets were jump shots.

The Pistons tried 23 shots.

They made eight.

Had enough?

So where are we? The Pistons have now surrendered the home court advantage in this championship joust. They must win the next two games in the Silverdome to have a reasonable shot at the rings they so deeply desire.

“Today the Lakers played three-quarter-court defense and full-court offense,” said John Salley. “We have to play on Tuesday (Game 4) with everything we’ve got.”

The shame of this was that Sunday was such a perfect day for a Detroit celebration. Jack Nicholson was there, Jesse Jackson was there. The networks. The national media. Nearly 40,000 sweaty yet optimistic fans.

But this is the final. It’s not enough to dress up, not enough to show up. First and last, you have to play basketball. The Pistons’ percentage from the floor in the second half Sunday was 33 percent. “Occasionally,” said Daly, with about a ton of irony, “you have to hit your shots.”

Enough. Wash it away. There is more basketball — two more games in Detroit
— and perhaps the best approach to Game 3 is to treat it the way you would bread in the oven that never rose. Toss it and start over.

“Do you even remember what happened between the first and second technicals?” someone asked Daly about his ejection.

“Nothing,” he said. “It was just bang, bang, gone.”

That pretty much sums up the afternoon. The worst part of Daly getting tossed early wasn’t the anger or the embarrassment. The worst part was that he didn’t miss anything. CUTLINE Chuck Nevitt, Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards watch from the Pistons bench as Game 3 of the NBA finals slips away. FACES IN THE CROWD Actor Jack Nicholson, right, fans himself with a mask of his face. The masks were given away before Sunday’s game. Nicholson is an avid Lakers fan. Above, actor Rob Lowe stays in his seat at halftime. Right, boxer Thomas Hearns watches the action at the Pontiac Silverdome.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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