Just Like Old Times
By Jeff Dengate
When Central Division rivals, the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls, meet in the second round of the 2007 Playoffs, it will mark the sixth time in NBA history the teams have faced each other in the postseason. This year, much like in the late 1980s and 1990, Detroit is the older, defensive stalwart, that immovable force the younger, talented Chicago team is trying to overcome. Then, it took three straight series losses, as the Bulls inched ever closer -- winning one, two then three games -- before they were able to break through. Will this year's Bulls squad find more early success than their predecessors?


"It was a full-service playoff series—physical play, coaches parrying in the newspapers," wrote Steve Addy in his book Four Decades of Motor City Memories. "In short, the same kind of gamesmanship that dominated the Pistons-Bulls playoffs of the '80s and '90s. But this was 1974."

The Chicago Bulls—featuring Rick Adelman, Jerry Sloan and Bob Weiss, all players who are current or recent NBA head coaches—finished the regular season with a 54-28 record, good for second place in the Midwest Divison, two games ahead of the Detroit Pistons. The teams would meet in the Western Conference Semifinals.

After dropping all four regular-season contests at Chicago Stadium, Detroit shocked the Bulls in the opener, 97-88, behind 27 points from 1974 All-Star Game MVP Bob Lanier. The Bulls, however, would re-gain homecourt advantage with a win in Detroit in Game 2—at the time, the series switched after every game—and the teams would hold serve at home the remainder of the series.

With Game 7 tied, 94-94, and the clock running down, Chicago's Chet Walker hit a go-ahead, 10-footer to give the Bulls a two-point advantage. The ensuing inbounds pass by Detroit's Dave Bing was broken up, giving the Bulls a series win and the right to be swept by Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Pistons.com: Pistons-Bulls: At The Beginning


The 1987-88 season marked the Pistons drive to finally get past the long-dominant Celtics, while the Bulls were busy clawing at the Pistons, who had won 54 games to capture their first division title in franchise history.

And while the 1987-88 regular season and All-Star individual accolades may have belonged to a young Michael Jordan, he had little support in his attempt to advance any further in the second round of the playoffs, where the Bulls and Pistons met for a second time.

After taking Game 1 of their series at their then-home, the Pontiac Silverdome—a building which, earlier in the year, hosted an NBA-best single-game attendance mark of 61,983; The Bulls topped the record a decade later in the Georgia Dome—Detroit gave up Game 2 at home to the Bulls. Detroit, however, found a successful formula, holding Jordan in check and forcing his teammates to beat them. They could not and Detroit won the three subsequent games to take the series 4-1.

Jordan, who averaged an NBA-high 35.0 points per game during the regular season, was limited to only 27.4 during the series with Detroit. One thing was clear: The Bulls may have been pushovers this year, but they were going to figure into Detroit's spring plans for years to come.

Pistons.com: Jordan's Bulls Meet the Bad Boys


The Pistons, after finally supplanting the Celtics in the Finals, where they lost in seven games to the Lakers, were determined from Day 1 to make a return trip. The team racked up 63 wins, which included 30 in a 34-game stretch to close the season after Detroit acquired Mark Aguirre from Dallas for Adrian Dantley. Standing in the team's way, however, was an improved Bulls team that won only 47 games but earned a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with wins over playoff victories over Cleveland and New York.

Before the series began, Michael Jordan predicted the Bulls would defeat Detroit if only Chicago could win Game 1 on the road. That's just what the Bulls did, capturing Games 1 and 3 to take a 2-1 series lead. The Pistons, though, won the next three to advance to the Finals, where they would sweep the short-handed Lakers, who lost Magic Johnson to a hamstring pull in Game 2.

Pistons.com: Bulls Better, Pistons Best


The Bulls inched ever closer to passing the Pistons, but would have to wait one more year, as the Bad Boys captured the second of their back-to-back Larry O’Brien trophies.

Behind an Eastern Conference best 59-23 record—the Lakers won 63 games—Detroit again captured the Central Division title and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they, again, faced the Chicago Bulls, who won 55 regular season games.

Much like three years earlier, when the Pistons lost to Boston in seven games, the home team captured every game in this series to advance to the Finals. The loser in both cases, however, would win the rematch the following year.

The series proved to be a hard-fought battle, as were the two previous meetings between the teams. The Bulls may not have had to wait until the 1990-91 season were it not for a migraine headache that limited Scottie Pippen in Game 7 to 1-for-10 shooting and only two points in 42 minutes. In addition to Pippen, the Bulls were without a healthy John Paxson, who suffered a sprained ankle in the series.

Pistons.com: Rivaly Peaks in 1990 Conference Finals


"Outside of Detroit," Addy quoted Jordan in Four Decades, as told to The Oakland Press before Game 4, "I think people will be happy they're not the reigning champions anymore. It'll mean we're getting back to a clean game and getting the Bad Boy image away from the game."

By then, the Bulls comfortably controlled the series, three games to none, looking to sweep away their nemesis and make the first Finals appearance in Bulls franchise history. Heading in to the Playoffs, the Bulls (61-21) had wrested the Central Division title away from the Pistons and became only the ninth team in NBA history to win 60 or more games in a single season.

Chicago routed the Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills; their 21-point margin of victory in Game 4 prompting, perhaps as much as Jordan's quote above, Detroit, led by Isiah Thomas, to leave the court without so much as a congratulatory handshake.

The torch, however begrudgingly, had been passed to the younger Bulls, who would go on to three-peat twice over a span of eight seasons.

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