The 2015-16 Detroit Pistons really couldn’t have asked for a better start than their three game run through the Hawks, Jazz, and Bulls in the season’s first week. Considering the Detroit Lions situation (that situation being: the Lions are the Lions), there was a quick touch of excited relief for a Detroit franchise exceeding expectations, if only for a week.
The Pistons’ 3-0 start was their first since 2008, but when it comes to the team’s history of opening acts, this year’s club still found itself on the outside looking in. Here’s our list of the five hottest starts in Pistons history.
Start: 2-0, 13-2
Finish: 50-32, Second in Central, Lost in Conference Finals (Bulls)
This is a club that often gets lost in time, known more as the team that finally lost to Michael Jordan than anything else. But the 1990-91 Pistons were still defending champions, and they opened the season with thoughts of a three-peat. After a 3-2 start, Detroit won their last 10 games in November, largely behind the prime play of Joe Dumars, an All-Star starter and All-NBA Third Team selection in ’91 who averaged 20.4 points a night.
Start: 4-0, 10-1
Finish: 54-28, Third in Central, Lost in First Round (Hawks)
After making his playoff debut the season prior, Grant Hill entered his third season as a pro in full Neo-from-the-Matrix mode, becoming self aware and leading the Pistons to a perfect 4-0 start. His hero antics, including a 22, 14, 9 and 3 performance against Philadelphia in his team’s third game, made Detroit virtually unbeatable through the season’s first three weeks, their only blemish coming against a 69-win Bulls team.
Start: 8-0, 10-2
Finish: 63-19, First in Central, NBA Champions
After a heartbreaking and controversial Game 7 loss to the Lakers in June, the Pistons opened up the new season ready to slay. They kicked off ’88-89 with eight straight wins but still found themselves looking up at the Cleveland Cavaliers by the time February rolled around (no, seriously, the Cavs shot out to a 30-7 start and were a favorite in the East – there’s a reason Jordan’s Cavs-killing playoff jumper holds historical prominence). A 32-13 mark was enough to convince GM Jack McCloskey that an Adrian Dantley-Mark Aguirre swap was the right play. The Pistons lost just six games post-trade, cruising to a 15-2 playoff record and culminating in the franchise’s first NBA championship.
Start: 9-0, 12-1
Finish: 45-37, last place in Midwest Division, missed playoffs
How’s this for an uphill battle: The Pistons had been in Detroit for 13 years prior to the start of the 1970-71 season. Do you know how many years they’d finished with a winning record up to that point? Never. So, the ’71 Pistons had their work cut out for them.
Lucky for head coach Butch Van Breda Kolff, he had a prime Dave Bing and rookie Bob Lanier in his corner. The duo led the Pistons to a franchise record 9-0 start, highlighted by a wild come-from-behind victory over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks on October 20. That night, in front of a sellout crowd of 11,316 at Cobo Arena, a last minute Jimmy Walker steal led to Pistons forward Bob Quick scooping up an offensive rebound and converting a three-point play with seven second remaining to score a 115-114 upset over the eventual NBA champions. Detroit’s fourth straight win set the stage for 12-1 start.
Now how’s this for a punch in the gut: The ’71 Pistons did, in fact, end up piecing together the first winning season in the history of Detroit basketball, finishing 45-37. Their reward? Last place in the Midwest Division and another missed postseason. Ouch.
Start: 8-0, 15-2, 24-3, 37-5
Finish: 64-18, First in Central, Lost in Conference Finals (Heat)
Here’s the thing about the 2006 Pistons. In contrast to every other team on this list, their opening season run didn’t really taper off until February. For a significant portion of the season, Flip Saunders’ crew was threatening to become just the second team in NBA history to reach 70 wins. With an NBA title to their name and at the height of their swagger, the ’06 Pistons were a walking All-Star team, sending four players and a coach to the mid-season classic, one of whom would even garner 15 first place votes for MVP (Chauncey Billups).
So sure, the ’71 Pistons’ 9-0 start may trump 8-0 in 2006. But 15-2, 24-3, and 37-5 trumps every other start in Pistons history.