"When he dribbled the ball between his legs like that," said New York guard Ernie Grunfeld, King's teammate at Tennessee, who was on the sideline at the time, "everything seemed to happen so fast that all you could do was say, 'Did he really do that?' You can tell a play is great when all the guys on the other team's bench look down to make sure the coach isn't watching, then start giving each other high fives." Thomas later scored on another drive after passing the ball behind his back to himself, which looked even more confusing than it sounds. "If a guy jumps over here, you go left," Isiah explained, sort of. "If he jumps there, you go right. If he doesn't jump nowhere, you've got to make him jump."
Jumping is a subject about which the Pistons should know a little something, having three of the game's leading levitators in Levingston, Cureton and 6'7" forward Terry Tyler. "We didn't have the athletes they did," said King, acknowledging what had become evident to everyone. The Pistons' flyboys had simply jumped over New York's front line, scoring 24 points on second shots in Game 4 and outrebounding the Knicks in each of the first four games. "You can't just get in front of them," New York forward Truck Robinson said. "You've got to put your body on them. Those guys can rise."
The question was, could Detroit—making its first playoff appearance in seven years—rise to the challenge of a fifth game against the more experienced Knicks? If they were going to do it, the Pistons would have to get along without their home court, which had been rented out for a motocross. The game was moved to Joe Louis Arena, a five-year-old building in downtown Detroit so unfamiliar to most of the suburbanite Piston players that trainer Mike Abdenour had to give them written directions so they could find it.
The Pistons found the arena, but they couldn't find the range, sinking only 44% of their shots in the first half and 41% in the second. The arena was hot and smoky, and Brown stripped down to his shirtsleeves only minutes into the game. "It was so hot in there," said King, "I thought I was about to pass out at half-time. I was just totally zapped." King picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and sat out for nearly nine minutes, during which time the Knicks actually widened their lead to six points. New York was still clinging to a 106-98 advantage with 1:57 left in the game when Thomas suddenly broke loose. During the next 94 seconds he scored 16 consecutive points on successive 14- and 16-foot jumpers, four free throws, a driving three-point play, another speed-dribble drive for a 14-foot jumper and finally a three-point shot from about 26 feet to knot the score at 114. Thomas was so mesmerizingly elusive that he drew Sparrow into three fouls in the space of only 30 seconds. "God placed his hand on Isiah and said, 'You shall play basketball, and you shall play it great,' " said Sparrow later.
But in the overtime that followed, Thomas missed three shots and fouled out, center Bill Laimbeer also went out on fouls, and Tripucka—who hit just 8 of 23 shots for the night—continued to misfire. King scored four of his 44 points in the extra period, including a decisive rebound slam. "It was like he was playing on an eight-foot basket on that play," said Grunfeld.
After the game King trundled off to his sickbed. "I haven't comprehended yet what I've done," he said. "Could anyone in his right mind have said before this series that I would have to score 40 points a night for us to win? I don't think so. Fortunately, I don't think I'll be expected to do this for the rest of my career."