The day Pistons guard Isiah Thomas dropped 16 points in 94 seconds, trying to deliver ‘staggering punch’ to the Knicks
Thomas sent the game to overtime but lost a playoff duel with Bernard King
With 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining, an eight-point deficit and the weight of winning a playoff series for the first time in eight years on his shoulders, the Detroit Pistons’ Isiah Thomas began a staggering offensive attack against the New York Knicks.
The record crowd of 21,208 at Joe Louis Arena watched as the 6-foot-1 guard put on an offensive clinic, scoring 16 of his 35 points in the final 1:34 to tie the game at 114-114.
His 3-pointer with 23 seconds left in regulation sent the Detroit loyalists into a frenzy. Thomas might have been able to will the Pistons into overtime, but his efforts were outdone by the Knicks’ Bernard King, who scored 44 points while suffering from the flu to give New York the 127-123 overtime win and clinch the five-game series on April 27, 1984.
“From my point of view, it’s too bad somebody had to lose,” Knicks coach Hubie Brown told the Philadelphia Daily News. “They went out swinging, and Isiah Thomas’ effort in the fourth quarter was a staggering punch to us. Especially when the young man put on such an awesome display of shooting.”
Pistons fans gave their team a rousing round of applause even though the Knicks were moving into the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics.
“I’m not satisfied,” Thomas told the Philadelphia Daily News. “We got respect from a lot of people around the league. But as far as being satisfied — you can never be satisfied.”
Everyone on the Knicks knew where the ball was going, as the Pistons’ final 16 points all came from Thomas. It didn’t matter. He was on a mission to score against any defender who checked him, and it looked like the three-year veteran would very well deliver Detroit after New York turned the ball over late in regulation.
After a timeout, Darrell Walker committed a five-second violation inbounding the ball and turned it over to the Pistons. Detroit called a timeout and then inbounded to Earl Cureton, who handed off to Thomas.
Seconds melted as Thomas milked the clock. Walker locked in on him. The clock struck nine seconds and the Pistons guard began to make his move, but as he did so, Walker finally backed off him. That threw Thomas off balance and allowed the Knicks guard to swipe the ball from him.
”Isiah was penetrating,” Walker told The New York Times. ”I backed up and he kept coming at me. When he finally tried to shoot the ball, I stopped, stuck my hand out and took the ball away from him.”
Even though King was forced to miss eight minutes in the third quarter because of foul trouble, he was still able to put up his fourth straight 40-plus-point playoff game. That brought his series total to 213 points, which was an NBA playoff record for a five-game series. The Los Angeles Lakers’ Elgin Baylor set the record in 1961 when he dropped 197 points against the Pistons.
Bill Cartwright scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half, while New York center Marvin Webster contributed 10 points and three blocks. In overtime, the Knicks played without their first unit, as Rory Sparrow (four points, 10 assists) and Ray Williams (17 points, 12 assists) fouled out, so Walker and Trent Tucker led the way.
Pistons center Bill Laimbeer provided the team with its only lead of overtime when he gathered a missed shot by Thomas and hit a 7-foot fallaway jumper. Detroit led, 116-114, before Tucker tied it with a 19-foot jump shot after a steal.
Detroit missed the next 11 shots, while the Knicks reeled off seven points to give them a 123-116 lead with 1:29 remaining. Thomas had another run in him, nailing a 26-foot try with 1:19 left.
King saw Thomas’ 3-pointer and raised him with a 16-foot turnaround to give New York a six-point lead. Not to be bested, Thomas attacked New York’s defense for a layup. Then the Pistons’ press forced Louis Orr to fumble the ball out of bounds. That led to a Cureton bucket that cut the Knicks’ lead to two.
But that’s as close as Detroit would get, as Cartwright nailed two shots at the free throw line with 37 seconds left to seal the win. Thomas committed his sixth and final foul on the play, and the Knicks could finally exhale.
”I don’t remember a thing about what happened,” King told the Times. “I was so intense. All I know is that I thought we had the game several times but they just kept coming back. They just wouldn’t give up.”