Isiah Thomas playing on a bad wheel, Vinnie Johnson hitting on 00.7, Bill Laimbeer dropping Larry Bird with an RKO out of nowhere.
There’s a series of milestones (if we want to call nearly ending Larry Bird’s existence a milestone) that have come to define the first legendary era of Detroit Pistons basketball. Great defense, great fights, and great guard play, generally speaking.
But I’m a little tired of generalizations today, at least when it comes to Joe Dumars. Most are able to cite his illustrious NBA career, his lowkey stardom, and even his role in building the 2004 champions as general manager. Yet, I realized there wasn’t a lot of evidence out there that illustrated exactly why Dumars didn’t only arrive on the scene in 1989, but stole the show as the NBA Finals MVP.
While stopping short of a longform breakdown, I decided to piece together some media recently to help connect the dots.
Exhibit A: Sure, a rudimentary BasketballReference search will illustrate how Dumars averaged 27.3 points on 57.6 percent shooting in a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers. But those numbers don’t tell the story of how Dumars kept the Pistons above water in Game 2 by scoring 26 points in the first half on an array of sneaky drives and automatic jumpers (still not entirely sure how he finished from that angle at 1:42):
Exhibit B: Dumars doubled down on his scoring dominance just two days later, scoring 17 consecutive Pistons points in Game 3, dropping 21 altogether in the third before executing a flawless game-saving block on David Rivers down the stretch (4:00):
To be sure, the Pistons never win that championship in ’89 (or ’90 for that matter) without their lauded defensive clamps (holding every team under 100 points until the second game of the NBA Finals was no small task in the run-and-gun ’80s). But through all the shenanigans, through all the fights, the diving for loose balls, and the hustle, Joe Dumars rightfully earned his title as the Pistons’ silent assassin.