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The NBA'S world returned to relative normalcy in Portland, Ore., on Sunday afternoon. The Detroit Pistons were once again the best team in basketball, the Portland Trail Blazers were moaning about the Pistons' style of play, and Bill Laimbeer left Portland's Memorial Coliseum wearing a black hat, figuratively and literally.
The Pistons' 121-106 rout of the Blazers put the defending champions back in control of the 1990 Finals, two games to one. Even with victories in Games 4 and 5 at the Coliseum this week, the Blazers will have to return to the Pistons' Palace of Auburn Hills. Portland did play well in both Games 1 (a 105-99 loss) and 2 (a 106-105 overtime victory) at The Palace, but just well enough, it may turn out, to have awakened Detroit from the semi-stupor in which it began the series.
"Historically, when our team feels threatened is when we're at our best," said Laimbeer, who in Game 3 grabbed 12 rebounds, drew no fewer than five offensive fouls and generally drove the Trail Blazers to distraction with his distinctive and bothersome brand of theatrical mayhem. "We don't handle prosperity very well at all."
That may benefit Detroit as the series progresses, with Game 4 to have been played Tuesday night and Game 5 on Thursday. Shooting guard-defensive specialist Joe Dumars learned of the death of his 65-year-old father, Joe II, minutes after Game 3. He initially elected to remain with the team until after the games in Portland. Then he will attend the funeral on Saturday and most likely will play if there is a Game 6 Sunday. Dumars, however, was extremely close to his father, who died of complications from diabetes, so the psychological effect of his father's death remained to be seen.
Certainly the Pistons were not looking prosperous going into Game 3. With the series tied 1-1, not only were they facing the historical reality of not having won in Memorial Coliseum since 1974, but also they were suffering from the ankle injury that had limited the considerable contributions of defensive specialist Dennis Rodman in Games 1 and 2. Coach Chuck Daly had already decided by Saturday afternoon, the day before the game, that Rodman would not start (as it happened, he did not play at all), and that in his place would be Mark Aguirre, who may be a better scorer than Rodman (who isn't?) but is not nearly as feared on defense.
Detroit, nevertheless, grabbed a one-point advantage late in the first period and held the lead in a death grip the rest of the afternoon. Once the margin grew to double figures early in the third period, it was evident that the Pistons would not surrender, certainly not on this day.
At one point in the fourth period, Dumars careened down the lane and threw in an off-balance prayer. "Your father put that one in," Isiah Thomas thought to himself at the time. Thomas was the only Piston who had been told of the death of Dumars's father before the game. Dumars had instructed his wife, Debbie, that if his father, who had been ailing, died on a game day, he wasn't to be informed until later.
Game 3 marked one of the few times in the postseason that backcourt mates Dumars (33 points) and Thomas (21) got hot together, and they were joined by third guard Vinnie Johnson, who shot his way out of a slump that had threatened to transform him from "Microwave" to "Refrigerator." Johnson entered the game having made good on only three of his last 25 field goal attempts in the postseason, but he shot 9 of 13 on Sunday.
The Piston defense also was relentless, in its aggressiveness and rapid-fire rotations, and by the fourth period Portland's offense was tentative. Even without Rodman, Detroit forced 20 turnovers.
Then there was the Laimbeer factor. Sunday's game had to set some kind of record for the number of times a heavy-legged center gummed up the opponents' works. The human monkey wrench has the ability, perhaps unique in the NBA, to draw fouls both legitimately (by establishing position, assuming a strong base and putting both hands straight up in the air to get a charge) and illegitimately (by falling to the floor as if struck by lightning at the slightest contact on or off the ball). Laimbeer got calls by both methods on Sunday, and by late in the fourth period, Portland power forward Buck Williams was so frustrated that in plain sight of the officials he simply stiff-armed Laimbeer to the floor. Laimbeer went sprawling—perhaps 80% from the force of the forearm and 20% from thespianism—and Buck went to the bench with his sixth foul. Forty-six seconds later, Laimbeer also fouled out, having most assuredly gotten his money's worth in the game. As he departed to boos and hoots, he bowed to the crowd.