The Lakers won the 1988 Finals, but that didn’t stop Isiah Thomas from making history with a superhuman performance as well.
Parallel to the fight he had – and would get worse – with Michael Jordan and his Bulls , the one that led him not to go to the Barcelona Olympics or to have a dislike for the ’23’ that lasts to this day , Isiah Thomas had more battles. At the end of the 80s they had the measure taken for Chicago in the Eastern Conference, but they still had a way to go to get the much-awaited Ring.
He would succeed in 1989 and 1990 , throwing the protagonists of the highly acclaimed documentary The Last Dance precisely out of the way , but not in 1988, and there one of the great feats of history took place despite the fact that it did not serve for anything other than to enhance his legend as one of the most proud bases in NBA history.
The Lakers were the team that faced him and that posed a great dilemma for him in that month of June 1988.
The Angelenos had been the clearest contender for the championship since 1980 and had had mythical duels with the 76ers and, above all, with the Larry Bird’s Celtics.
They wanted to continue the show-time and more when they had lost the throne against their archrival the previous year.
They measured the Pistons , who on their side of the table made Jordan dance with a very harsh style that led them to the nickname of ‘Bad Boys’.
They were a threat both in style and in the playoffs themselves, although those Lakers still dominated.
The NBA recovered that year the 2-3-2 format for the Finals, much discussed throughout history for the advantage that it could give to the team that least had to be benefited, and what happened with Isiah Thomas was also a consequence of it.
They always want to close the series, the games and the commitments as soon as possible in case problems arise later that separate you from your goal, something that Thomas took almost to the letter, very closely, so much so that the foot was more protagonist than some of the players who participated in that event.
A year later, he would redeem himself by sweeping the same Lakers and achieving the first of his two titles, but at that moment life hit him and he gave a life lesson .
On June 19, 1988 , the sixth game of those Finals was played at the Forum in Los Angeles .
The Pistons dominated 3-2 after the performance they brought to the games played in their flag, the Pontiac Silverdome . The Lakers controlled the game after the break, but Isiah Thomas started to score very easily.
The bad luck crossed his eyes and he ended up aching on the ground with a sprained ankle with four minutes to go until the end of that period.
He rested for exactly 35 seconds and came back with three and a half minutes left, absolutely lame. And he did not care.
When the horn sounded at the end of the room he was gone to25 points in that sleeve alone, with fourteen in a row, an NBA record (more points scored in a quarter in a Finals) that remains in force to this day.
It would not end there. His final statistical card gives a little more character to the performance: 44 minutes on the court for 43 points, scoring 18/32 on field goals, and adding 8 assists and 6 steals. He had to do everything being a pure wink . The images went around the world …
The Pistons took the lead in the final two minutes of the game, causing the operatives to shortly put the champagne to cool. The Lakers, however, could not have a slip like that, in their glamorous home and against a leader who was one blow away from falling .
Thomas missed the final shot after a good defense, MVP James Worthy caught the rebound and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sentenced from free throws. Lakers 103-102 win. And the seventh was also at home.
There they would win the Ring, with the track factor in favor and against an Isiah Thomas who suffered not only from the ankle but from his dislocated left little finger and an eye to the virule after landing one of the hands of his opponents on it.
The hero cape was not worth it to win, but it was to be valued. “Without him we would have had no choice.
He has kept us on his own and has shown that he is a superstar,” said Chuck Daly , his coach, on the eve of the seventh game. However, it was another blow that would mark him more for the person who threw it …
“It was their best game,” said ‘Magic’ Johnson , who was right in front of him and who was joined by a close friendship that then withered in a really ugly way ( and which they fixed with a tear-gas encounter in 2017 ).
The recognition that you may not have had for various reasons was always there, you just had to dig.