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SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Jack McCallum
June 13, 1988
While the Lakers were winning a rugged series from Dallas, the Celtics showed their age and lack of depth in losing to Detroit
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June 13, 1988

Survival Of The Fittest

While the Lakers were winning a rugged series from Dallas, the Celtics showed their age and lack of depth in losing to Detroit

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Anyway, there was little any coach could have done to stop these Detroit tigers. Firmer of resolve and wiser of game plan after last year's seven-game loss to the Celtics, the Pistons, as Dennis Johnson put it, "played every phase of the game the way coaches tell you to." Well, that's not quite accurate. Their offense was inconsistent at times and will need fine-tuning if it is to challenge an underrated Laker defense.

What Detroit showed against Boston was strength of character. In Game 5 the Pistons fell behind by as many as 16 points early in the second half before rallying to win 102-96 in overtime. Visitors to Boston Garden are not supposed to do that. The Pistons came out tentatively again in Game 6 and led only 48-46 at halftime. But in the second half Detroit lit so many flash fires that Boston simply couldn't stamp them all out. Vinnie Johnson made six of eight jumpers. Adrian Dantley sank three shots in a row in the fourth quarter. Thomas cast aside a 1-for-7 first-half shooting performance and forcefully directed the offense.

More than most point guards, Thomas walks a tightrope as he tries to create his own shots while making sure that Dantley, the moody scoring machine, gets his share. Thomas has done both well in the postseason. When Game 6 was over, Thomas looked dreamy-eyed as he talked to reporters. "It's impossible to describe how I feel," he said. "My reality has met my dream."

Thomas, however, has a long way to go before his reality compares with that of his good buddy Magic. Seven times since his rookie season of 1979-80 Magic has led L.A. into the finals, and four times he has come away a winner. Now Magic dreams of back-to-back championships. He had a get-it-done, hard-eyed look about him in the Dallas series. Before Game 7, Magic asked Riley if he could check Roy Tarpley, the Mavericks' rebounding maniac. "Pat wanted to keep Tarpley under 10 rebounds, and I told him the way to do that is to put me on him," said Magic. So Magic played him for much of the game, and Tarpley got only seven rebounds.

"Banging, bumping," said Johnson. "Physical play, that's what I like." Magic, that's exactly what you're going to get from the Pistons.

Take it from one who knows. As Bird climbed wearily to his feet in the locker room on Friday night, someone asked him if he was a little tired. "A little tired?" said Bird with a rueful smile. "No, I'm a lot tired."

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