scattered complaints from Jackson throughout the series that the Pistons were
playing an illegal zone defense much of the time, which is exactly what coach
Chuck Daly used to say about the Lakers when his Pistons couldn't solve L.A.'s
trap. But if the Detroit defense is often illegal, the Pistons rotate so
expeditiously that it's difficult to whistle them for it.
The Pistons held
Chicago to a .407 shooting percentage in the series; take away Jordan's .467
(and even that is no feat for the best player in the world), and the Bulls'
team percentage drops to .382. And it was a suffocating trapping defense that
enabled the Pistons to seize control of Game 7 in the second period. With the
Bulls leading 27-25, Detroit suddenly started scrambling all over the court,
forcing Jordan to give up the ball. At the same time, the Pistons rotated
quickly enough to either stop his teammates from shooting or make them alter
their shots. "They're always contesting, always flying at you, and most of
the time it's one of their leapers, like Salley or Rodman," said Paxson.
"That plays on your mind." Which means it destroys composure. The Bulls
had only two field goals in the final 7:51 of the second period, and Detroit
walked off with a 48-33 halftime lead.
At that point one
wondered if Jordan was again enlivening the locker room in some fashion.
Evidently he was not. But he most certainly decided at the break that he had to
take over the game if the Bulls were to have any chance at all. From the outset
of the third period until reserve Charles Davis made an unassisted layup with
1:49 left in the game, Jordan either scored or assisted on every one of the
Bulls' 14 field goals. During that 22-minute, 11-sccond span, Jordan scored 21
points and handed out five assists. Of course, 14 field goals aren't nearly
enough for that period of time, and the closest Chicago could get was 69-59, at
the end of the third period.
The Pistons, by
contrast, spread the wealth, as they always do. Next to playing hellacious
defense, their most distinctive attribute is their ability to withstand
protracted slumps by any of their scorers. No one player must be on for the
Pistons to win. On Sunday, for example, Joe Dumars (seven points) and James
Edwards (six) were off the mark, but Thomas and Mark Aguirre (15 points, 10
rebounds) were definitely on. Rodman, playing bravely on a badly sprained left
ankle, had 13 points and nine rebounds, while Salley added 14 points to go with
his five blocks. Salley's hot streak continued later, in the Piston locker
room, when he found a diamond earring that Aguirre thought he had lost. He then
called Aguirre "tossed-salad head." It didn't make any sense, but it
was funny, as most things are that come out of the Spider's mouth.
Then again, a lot
of things about the Pistons don't make sense. Even when they win, they do
things a little differently. In Game 5, at The Palace on May 30, a junkyard-dog
of a contest won by the Pistons 97-83, Thomas, frustrated by an offensive-foul
call at the other end, mindlessly tossed Pippen to the floor late in the third
period. That is not exactly recommended behavior by a team captain during the
playoffs, and Daly removed Thomas from the game and did not put him back in.
But the Pistons never really missed him, because of the inspired bench play of
Vinnie Johnson and Aguirre and because they had the will to shut down Jordan,
who scored just 22 points on 7-of-19 shooting. There was also the matter of
Detroit's tepid play in Chicago Stadium throughout the series. During last
Friday's 109-91 loss in Game 6, Detroit even drew a technical foul for having
too many men on the court, Rodman having failed to inform Aguirre that he was
coming in for him.
sharpshooting of Hodges in Game 6 (19 points, 4 of 4 on three-pointers) seemed
to give the Bulls hope for Game 7. If someone, anyone, could hit a few jump
shots to loosen up the Piston defense, it would be Chicago going to its first
NBA Finals and the Pistons going home. "Tonight I felt like I was shooting
into Lake Michigan," said Hodges after Game 6.
But by late
Sunday afternoon he felt like he was drowning in Lake Huron. If the Trail
Blazers want to avoid that feeling, they must come up with a way of beating a
most unusual team. A team whose center, Bill Laimbeer, stays outside and shoots
jump shots. A team that uses a nonscorer, Rodman, at small forward, a scorer's
position. A team whose post-up player is its power forward, Edwards, who really
doesn't have a power game at all, preferring instead to shoot fadeaway jump
And the Blazers
will find, as Chicago did, that playing Detroit is like darting through a
minefield. Which mines are active? Which are misfiring? No one knows for sure,
including the Pistons. Take Thomas. He was pitiful in Games 1, 2 and 5,
shooting 8 of 31 from the floor, yet he performed masterfully in Sunday's
clincher. Dumars seemed to sense when he needed to pick up for his backcourt
mate, playing his best when Thomas was at his worst, and vice versa. Laimbeer
laid nothing but brick in Games 3 and 4, going 1 for 13 from the field, then
went 7 of 13 to help the Pistons in Game 5. Daly begins each game, as he says,
"looking for a horse to ride, and most of the time I don't have any more
idea who that will be than anyone else."
Blazers will have their problems too. If the Pistons could shut down Jordan for
long stretches, as they did in Games 1, 2 and 5, it's hard to imagine that they
won't be able to stop Portland's Jordan, Clyde Drexler, even if they don't have
time to institute a set of Drexler Rules. Thomas will certainly be tested on
both ends of the court by Portland point guard Terry Porter more than he was by
Hodges, Paxson and Armstrong, the trio that took turns going up against him in
the Chicago series. But it's exactly the kind of challenge to which the Piston
captain will respond. And though Jerome Kersey's jump-shooting and all-around
offensive abilities have been one of the surprises of the playoffs, Kersey will
now have to get his shot off with Rodman, the quick-footed, fist-waving Worm,
all over him. Jerome, the vacation is over.
The Blazers do
appear to match up with Detroit better than Chicago did. They have toughness
and maturity, represented by Buck Williams and Porter, and talent, represented
by Drexler, Kersey and rookie Cliff Robinson, that Chicago does not possess,
Jordan excluded. Logic says they could topple Detroit and prevent a repeat.