The Game: 1988 Finals, Game 6
The Series Situation: Detroit Pistons lead Los Angeles Lakers, 3-2
The Play: Isiah Thomas, hobbling on a sprained ankle, scores an NBA-record 25 points in the third quarter.
The Significance: It was weird and courageous all into one, the sight of a player producing an all-time great quarter on one leg. Before he rolled his right ankle while assisting a Joe Dumars basket, Thomas had scored 14 points in the third quarter to start a Detroit Pistons rally.
After briefly leaving the game, Thomas returned and scored 11 of Detroit’s last 15 points in the quarter. The Pistons were down eight when he left and after he returned, they took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter. Without question, it was the second-most famous sprained ankle in NBA Finals history, and in some ways, it should be ranked No. 1.
Yes, Willis Reed gets plenty of deserved respect for walking out of the tunnel for the New York Knicks on his bum ankle in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, but Reed scored only two baskets (which, admittedly, did fire up the Knicks in the win). Thomas, meanwhile, was engaged in a tight game with a title on the line, and the Pistons needed him on the floor.
Thomas finished with 43 points and eight assists and at times was the best player despite the injury. The finish was controversial as a “phantom” foul by Bill Laimbeer on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave the aging Lakers the lead for good. With his ankle still stiff and bothersome, Thomas was a non-factor in Game 7, which the Lakers won. Many believe if not for the injury, the “Bad Boy”-era Pistons would have three titles instead of two.
— Shaun Powell
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