While the Los Angeles Lakers were considered the biggest rival of the Boston Celtics back in the 1980s, the Detroit Pistons were a close second. Before the Celtics and Lakers met in the NBA Finals, Boston had to make its way through those “Bad Boys” of Detroit.
Isiah Thomas was part of that Pistons group that often gave the Celtics fits. Those Pistons/Celtics series were heated, and there was always a lot of talking. Thomas said all that trash-talk the Celtics were known for helped make him a better player.
Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons had their hands full with the Boston Celtics
The Detroit Pistons had to wait their turn, but they finally broke through in 1988. The Celtics were the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, as evidenced by their four straight NBA Finals appearances from 1984 to 1987.
The Celtics ousted the Pistons during the conference semifinals in 1985. In 1987, the Pistons had the Celtics on the ropes in the conference finals, but the Celtics pulled out that old Boston Garden magic.
In Game 3, Pistons center Bill Laimbeer took down Celtics star Larry Bird with a hard foul that resulted in an immediate ejection. Bird was tossed a few minutes later after firing the basketball at Laimbeer.
In Game 5, Celtics center Robert Parish gave Laimbeer a little payback. Parish took down the Pistons center with a couple of punches. The Celtics eventually got the last laugh in the game.
With the Pistons holding a one-point lead and having possession of the ball, Thomas made a costly blunder. He hurriedly threw an inbounds pass to Laimbeer, who was positioned in the paint of the Celtics basket. Bird jumped in front of Laimbeer, picked off the pass, and threw the ball to Dennis Johnson, who laid it in for the game-winning basket.
Boston took a 3-2 series lead into Detroit. Although no foul was called when Parish pummeled Laimbeer, he was suspended for Game 6, which was won by the Pistons. The Celtics closed out the series with a Game 7 win at home.
The Pistons finally dethroned the Celtics the following season.
Thomas believes all the trash talk by the Celtics made the Pistons better
Thomas was a recent guest on the Cedric Maxwell Podcast, hosted by the former Celtics star. The legendary point guard has always given the Celtics credit for being the team his Pistons always wanted to be.
The Celtics were always known as a bunch of trash-talkers. Bird was probably the best talker of the bunch. Kevin McHale might have been a close second. Thomas said all that talking trash the Celtics did helped him and the Pistons become a better team.
He specifically recalled one incident involving McHale.
“Y’all would beat our ass, and then y’all would talk crap to why you always beat us,” Thomas said. “I went up to take a shot, and y’all was going to beat us 4-2 that series. It was the last shot of the series. McHale hollers out, ‘Hey, I, I hope you make that shot because this is your last shot of the season.’
Thomas and Maxwell, who played with the Celtics until 1985, had a laugh, with Maxwell telling Thomas he had a great memory.
“You know what that made me do?” Thomas asked. “It made me get better. I didn’t take it in a bad way. And I missed the shot, too. That stuck with me.”