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Watching the Pistons, led by Isiah Thomas’ triple-double, beat the Bucks in Game 4 of the 1989 Eastern Conference semifinals

My running thoughts as I watched Game 4 of the 1989 Eastern Conference semifinals on NBATV today:

  • Laimbeer throws a nice outlet pass halfway down the court to Isiah, who bobbled the ball. The periphery skills Laimbeer had are still underrated.
  • Both teams take the first decent shot they can find. Even Rick Mahorn shoots as soon as he catches the ball.
  • Sidney Moncrief blasts past Joe Dumars off the dribble. That;s an incredible first step against Dumars, an all-time great defender.
  • The Pistons’ help defense early is pretty bad. Laimbeer and Mahorn don’t recognize when the Bucks penetrate quick enough to do anything about it.
  • That poor defense continues after a timeout, so Chucky Daly brings in Dennis Rodman.
  • Rodman’s jersey is untucked when he entered the game. What a rebel. (#foreshadowing)
  • Vinnie Johnson drives  baseline and attempts an up-and-under move, and he gets bailed out by a foul call. He’s definitely fouled but I say he was bailed out, because by the time he got hit, he had contorted himself the wrong way and would have been shooting away from the basket.
  • The Pistons have turned it over a lot. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve guessed this was a mid-80s version of the team – before they were ready to win a title.
  • Detroit has seven turnovers to Milwaukee’s none, and it seems worse than that.
  • I’m pretty sure the Bucks lead by 19. I really take having a scoreboard on the screen at all times for granted.
  • Dennis Rodman performs a fantastic flop. He launches himself backward five feet in the air before sliding another few feet.
  • Illegal defense! This is truly old school.
  • Rick Mahorn airballs a four-foot shot. Use the backboard, Rick.
  • Isiah gets Jay Humphries backpedaling. Then Humphries, off balance, bumps Thomas. No call. Thomas dribbles the ball angrily while glaring at the ref. Maybe this gets him going?
  • Later in the possession, Isiah passes to Laimbeer for a set-shot 3-pointer.
  • Another Laimbeer 3-pointer! Best 3-point-shooting big man of his era.
  • Mark Aguirre shoots a lot. A lot. And to think, he was an improvement to the offense’s flow over the ball-stopping Adrian Dantley.
  • Isiah hits a 3. The Pistons’ outside shooting is getting them back in the game. Not sure they would’ve won this game if it were played before the NBA adopted the 3-point shot.
  • Isiah’s junk shots are awesome. Drive, stop on a dime, up and under, off-balance floater. Good.
  • The Pistons warned to stand still during a Bucks free throw. Is that really a rule?
  • Isiah leaps high and snags a rebound in traffic.
  • The announcers explain a perk of playing in the Bradley Center. The shot clock is right above the game clock, making it easy for players to see both. “It should be that way everywhere.” I concur.
  • The Bucks have the ball with two seconds between the shot clock and game clock, and they try to hold for the final meaningful shot of the half. But Detroit forces a miss, which Isiah rebounds with one second left before immediately calling timeout. About two years too late.
  • The Pistons have Dennis Rodman in for this one-second offensive possession. Why?
  • Oh, it was a 20-second timeout, so no subs allowed.
  • Fred Roberts, who averaged 5.9 points per game during the regular season, scores 17 points in the first half.
  • Jay Humphries has 11 first-half assists.
  • OK, I didn’t want to say anything the first time, because I wasn’t sure, but I just saw it again. Does Isiah Thomas have a rat tail?
  • Isiah throws a bullet inside to Laimbeer, who made the layup. That pass was incredibly fast, an absolute laser.
  • Mahorn and Laimbeer warmed up by crashing into the TBS play-by-play announcer during each layup. With a lot of guys, that probably would’ve been playful. With those two, there’s a decent chance it was malicious.
  • Mike Abdenour basically looks the same. His hair is just a little darker. OK, a lot darker.
  • Laimbeer doesn’t jump on his shots as much as he steps into them. I guess you can do that when none of your opponents are used to a tall player shooting jumpers.
  • Rick Mahorn really uses his wide base well to box out. That’s a nice way of saying he has a big butt.
  • The Pistons finally tie it, outscoring Milwaukee, 17-7, in the second half.
  • Del Harris draws a technical for wanting a foul when Mark Aguirre made a clean swipe on the ball during a Humphries shot. All the contact that’s allowed during this game, and that play bothers Harris?
  • Bill Laimbeer called for a foul. Of course, he makes a show of complaining. Of course, the crowd taunts him. Of course, he holds his hand to his ear and points at the scoreboard.
  • Roberts is playing like he’s Kevin McHale. He’s finding spaces all over the court, and none of Detroit’s defenders are disrupting his rhythm.
  • Vinnie Johnson sets a screen by getting his arms tangled with a Buck, then swinging him away. Mark Aguirre gets called for an extremely quick three-second violation. Chuck Daly laughs.
  • The Pistons’ defense tightens in the third quarter. Now, Detroit looks like a team capable of winning at title.
  • Joe Dumars’ jumper is so smooth. It’s no wonder he played so long. That stroke doesn’t betray you.
  • Dumars called for a junk foul when his man fell over his own feet, and Dumars jumps up and down and turns sharply to bark at the official. Because Dumars was such a nice guy, people forget how intense he was.
  • James Edwards makes a 15-foot jumper. His form left a bit to be desired, but I didn’t realize that shot was in his repertoire.
  • Dennis Rodman can jump more times in five seconds than anyone else in NBA history.
  • The Bucks are in the bonus, and they’re relentlessly attacking Detroit inside. I think a lot of fans yell at their televisions when teams in the bonus hoist jumpers. It’s an easy issue to notice and criticize. Nobody would be upset with this Milwaukee team.
  • The 6-foot-11 Jack Sikma also used the step-into-it 3-point shot.
  • The Pistons have led most of the second half, but the Bucks won’t go away. And it’s all due to the players on the floor. A shot of their bench after a Milwaukee basket showed one player clapping furiously, but two others staring into space.
  • “Terry Cummings rooting his team on.”


  • Isiah Thomas hands off point-guard duties to Dumars often down the stretch. I don’t have a box score, but it sure seems like Dumars spent more time on the bench than Thomas. Maybe this is Isiah’s way of resting during the game.
  • Isiah flies across the court to grab a rebound that gets out of the paint. That gives Detroit the ball with a two-point and the shot clock off. After what feels like forever, the Bucks finally realize they must foul and send Isiah to the line. He splits.
  • The announcers debate whether the Pistons should foul up three with eight seconds left. Twenty-two years later, nobody has come closer to answering that question.
  • The Pistons foul Pierce with two seconds left. Pierce makes the first and will intentionally miss the second. He misses, but the Pistons poke the ball away, ending the game.
  • I’, very impressed with the Bucks. They really peaked in the wrong era. The Pistons may have won another title or two had they not had to battle those great Lakers and Celtics teams, but at least Detroit won a pair of championships. Milwaukee could never break through to that level.
  • This game shows how much heart the Bucks had. Terry Cummings, Rickey Green, Larry Krystowiak, Paul Mokeski and Paul Pressey couldn’t play due to injury. But Milwaukee gave the Pistons all they could handle.
  • Add the Bucks’ healthy players – Ricky Pierce, Jack Sikma, Sidney Moncrief and, on this day, Fred Roberts – that’s a heck of a squad. Just not good enough to win a title over the league’s juggernauts.
  • More on teams of that quality later when I review Game 6 of the next series, when the Pistons beat the Bulls.


  • Jul 25, 20117:34 pm
    by hazen


    Thanks Dan. Good Job. Too bad you were not old enough too see it. Isiah’s dipsy doodles were the best. He would kick Chris Paul’s ass. Isiah was one bad mofo and Jordan hated him. In that day, you didn’t party with the champs when you just lost to them!

  • Jul 25, 20118:42 pm
    by Patrick Hayes


    An interesting note that I didn’t point out in the ‘Jordan Rules’ book club post: Sam Smith talked about the Bucks-Pistons matchup a lot. He mentioned that the Pistons always struggled with the Bucks because of their big guards — Alvin Robertson, Ricky Pierce and Sidney Moncrief. Those three were bigger than Thomas/Dumars/Johnson and often presented matchup problems. Phil Jackson really pushed Jerry Krause to try and acquire Ricky Pierce so that the Bulls could go with a Jordan/Pierce backcourt as a way to make things tough on the Pistons.

  • Jul 25, 201111:36 pm
    by BIG MARV


    The Game one of that series is on youtube.com with the infamous wkbd tv 50 george blaha broadcast with dick motta and some classic commercials.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vqA-8M9tqg

  • Jul 26, 20111:01 am
    by Erb


    Great call of that game man! Remember watching this with my dad way back. Thanks for the recall! Wish Laimbeer could coach the guys

  • Jul 26, 201110:29 am
    by Rodman4Life



    I was a little “riled up” after yesterday’s Isiah vs. Paul post, but I understand the comparisons.  All is forgiven after this post, this was enjoyable.  One day when we leave this earth, we each take with us so many memories.  We can’t possibly convey all of them, all of the rich and intricate anecdotes and especially the context in which we received them (the present).  That reminds me of the Isiah/Paul argument.  And I’m even admitting that I can’t help but be biased because I’m a Piston fan.  But if you two had lived through and grown with Isiah, I know you both would view him differently and understand our pro-Isiah sentiments even if we aren’t so eloquent in our arguments.  He was truly immortal.  Paul will get there eventually at this rate.

  • Jul 26, 201110:36 am
    by Rodman4Life


    On a separate note, I think you guys should start a post on especially good teams that, for one reason or another, never peaked despite their ability/talent.  This Bucks team is a great example, and you hit it on the head with your description.  They were a high-caliber, quality team.  Another team I’d throw in there is the Mark Price/Brad Daugherty Cleveland Cavaliers.  That was one good ball club for several years.

    • Jul 26, 201110:46 am
      by Patrick Hayes


      Daugherty’s career was so tragic. Minus his back injuries, I think that Cavs team would’ve had a real shot at a title during Jordan’s first retirement.

  • Jul 26, 20111:50 pm
    by MrHappyMushroom


    Thanks, Dan.  You made my night.
    I read this earlier today. Awake after midnight in the Philippines (newborn daughter has made the clock a useless invention), I suddenly decided to check the basketball channel here.  I caught all but the first five minutes.  What great fun to watch, remember, and read along with you comments.
    Not sure at this point if the Bulls game is coming on next.  If so, the diaper change won’t be so unpleasant this time.

    • Jul 26, 20112:00 pm
      by Dan Feldman


      Glad you enjoyed it. I’ll have a post on the Bulls game up later. I have it DVRed, just need to watch it myself.

  • Jul 27, 20112:29 pm
    by A-Man


    Chucky? Who is he, the kid that lives next door to your mom and dad?

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