The floor was thumping, the house was dancing, screaming, dying, waiting for a sign, an assurance, and here came Isiah Thomas, grabbing a pass and turning his back and bouncing it to Dennis Rodman on the baseline. And Rodman rose like destiny and slammed the thing through and hung on the rim with same sweat-soaked determination the Pistons have found to hang on to this crazy series. That was the sign. The Silverdome went insane.
Nobody dies tonight. It was written all over the Pistons’ faces. It was dripping from their chins in untamed sweat. And finally, finally, it was on the scoreboard, 113-105. One more game? One more game. Only the Pistons had their graves dug when Round 6 of this Eastern Conference final began in a sweltering Silverdome Thursday night, but when the final buzzer sounded, there were two holes dug and two groups going back to Boston.
Nobody dies tonight. This was a tractor pull, a marathon run in August heat. It was 83 degrees on the court, and that was just standing still, and before the national anthem was sung, everybody was soaked. And then they started playing.
Here was Isiah Thomas launching jumper after jumper and chasing his rebounds and launching again. Here was Adrian Dantley spinning to the hoop, didn’t matter who was on him. Here was every Piston trying and chasing and blocking and running as if the last lights of their lives were the ones in the Silverdome rafters. Don’t you dare shut them off. And so for every basket by Larry Bird, who was simply born for nights like this, the Pistons came back, heaving and sweating. Over and over. Until it was over. The fourth quarter began with a tiny one-point lead but Vinnie Johnson hit a leaner, and Isiah hit a banker and forget it, the message was clear. Nobody dies tonight.
One more game. Remember that this was the first time since last May that the Pistons faced the end of their season, stared it down, saw the ugliness of summer vacation. Before the game, Thomas had sat with his shirt unbuttoned, answering questions about the way things might tun out.
“Have you given any thought to what would happen if you lose tonight?” he was asked.
“No,” he said softly.
He shrugged. “There’s just no way in hell we’re gonna lose tonight.”
A few lockers over, Adrian Dantley sat down and mumbled something about practice “tomorrow at 12:30.”
“See?” said Isiah. “I’m not the only one who feels that way.”
No way in hell. Forget that they were cheered like war heroes everytime they hit a jump shot. Forget the home nets, and the home music. Forget all that home stuff. Big win? Big win.
Consider the circumstances after Game 5, which Larry Bird stole in a last-second slice of Garden magic. The Pistons came home loaded like bellhops, with enough emotional baggage to trip them a hundred ways. First they had to forget about Tuesday. Wipe it out. See it as an accident instead of destiny. And then they had to forget about Saturday. Game 7. The finale. Back in the haunted mansion on Causeway Street.
There was no time for such thoughts. No time for anything. If the Pistons allowed a moment’s ponder of past or future, their present was over.
Instead they did right, they focused their attention exactly where it belonged. They blinked through the sweat and never looked elsewhere. Everybody does their thing. Adrian Dantley spun to the basket. Again and again. Isiah Thomas drove the lane. Rick Mahorn bumped and grunted and became a rebounding machine when they needed him most — the fourth quarter. Do what you have to. Nobody dies tonight. Was there ever a bigger game here? Was there ever a hotter game here? This was baking basketball. Steaming. It was a night when you couldn’t wait to get out of your clothes, a night when you’d consider a crew cut if it would help you cool off. Before six minutes had elapsed in the game, Joe Dumars whipped a pass inside to a wide-open Bill Laimbeer and the ball hit his sweat-soaked palms and squished out of bounds. Hot? Hey. This is basketball in late May. This is when the best teams play. It’s hot.
The sweat was sweet. Nobody complained. can you imagine how hot it gets now? One more? One more. How long have we been on this Pistons-Celtics train? A week? two weeks? A month? “It does feel like we’ve been going back and forth between here and Boston forever,” sighed Thomas. But that is the way great series go.
So score one for determination, for growing up, for a franchise that has never gone this far. In that final glorious period the Pistons simply turned it up until defeat was behind them, and all they could see was the airport. Nobody dies tonight.
So now it is down to where it should be. One game. One chance. The raft these two teams have sailed since May 19 sinks on Saturday. And somebody has to go down with it. That is the way it should be.
Can you wait?