Much has been made of Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons walking off the court prematurely after the Chicago Bulls swept the Pistons in the first round of the 1991 playoffs. At ESPN’s Last Dance, that moment was It stood out and caused some animosity between Thomas and Michael Jordan. During the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals, the tables turned a bit when Thomas eliminated the Boston Celtics, who also left the court early. Former Celtics star Kevin McHale recently explained why that happened.
chicago bulls vs. detroit pistons, 1991 playoffs
It was always a battle when the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons met in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the intensity always increased during the playoffs. The relationship between the Detroit Bad Boys and the Jordan Bulls was already sour as the Bulls always felt that the Pistons were more physical, or dirty to be more forceful, when trying to contain Jordan. that escalated when the Pistons left the court with about eight seconds left when the Bulls eliminated them from the playoffs in 1991.
thomas gave his version of what happened. “That was the only time I think I’ve been swept in a series. normally i was the one sweeping,” thomas said. “His time had come and ours had ended. when we were coming out of the game, laimbeer said, ‘we’re not going to shake hands’… knowing what we know now, after what happened, i think we all would have stopped and said congratulations like they do now.”
jordan didn’t buy it. “Whatever (Isiah) says now, you know it was not his true actions then. he (he has had) enough time to think about it, or the reaction of the public that has changed the perspective of him. … you can show me whatever you want. there’s no way you can convince me that he wasn’t an idiot. all you have to do is lose again in game 7 (the previous year). “I shook everyone’s hand. two years in a row, we shook their hands when they beat us.”
boston celtics vs. detroit pistons, 1988 playoffs
the 1988 nba eastern conference finals featured the top two teams in the conference. The Boston Celtics were the top seeds after finishing the season with a 57-25 record, while the Detroit Pistons went 54-28. The Celtics were looking to reach the NBA Finals for the fifth straight season.
The Pistons, who played on the road in Game 1, faced a challenge when they entered the series having lost 21 straight games at Boston Garden. the teams had already met multiple times in previous postseasons and met in tight, physical playoff battles. detroit finally broke through boston and earned a win in game 1.
kevin mchale was dominant in the series, scoring 32 points in game 3 and 33 in game 6. the celtics, after tying the series at two games apiece with a 79-78 win at detroit, wasted a 16-point home lead in Game 5 and lost 102-96 to fall behind 3-2 in the series. the celtics, despite mchale’s heroics, lost the game and the series, falling 95-90 in game 6.
kevin mchale explains the premature exit of the celtics
just as the detroit pistons did when the chicago bulls eliminated them from the postseason, the boston celtics also left the court early. When the Pistons defeated the Celtics 4-2 in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals, Celtics players were heading to the locker room before the final bell rang. isiah thomas pointed that out during the last dance and said it was no big deal. “adrian dantley was shooting a free throw, and the boston celtics were walking away during the game,” thomas said “i grabbed (kevin) mchale, and then he stopped while he was getting up off the court. So they left the flat. and for us, it was fine.”
mchale, who had a very good series against the pistons, explained why the celtics came out early. “Somebody told us to get out of there before they stormed the field,” McHale told the Boston Herald. “You had a very long walk to get out of there. It wasn’t like the garden or other places. You probably had a hundred yards before you got to the locker room entrance.”
mchale said he talked to thomas as he was leaving the court. “I met isiah from the pan am games, and me and zeke have always been friends,” mchale said, adding that she was enjoying the last dance. “He said something to me, and I was like, ‘hey, man, look, it feels just as bad to lose in the final as it does to lose in the Eastern Conference final.’ I said, ‘this (expletive) is not over. You guys have another series to play so don’t celebrate too much. I said that and then I left. That was just my advice to him as a friend.”