There was the feeling, though no confirmation, that the Detroit Pistons, as we have known them, played their last game together Sunday, losing this first-round NBA playoff series with the New York Knicks in the fifth and deciding game, 94-87, at Madison Square Garden.
In a physically taxing series, Detroit couldn’t match what New York dished out. The Pistons couldn’t equal the Knicks’ ferocious energy on the offensive boards and they couldn’t score enough against New York’s tenacious defense.
They did what they could. Isiah Thomas scored 31 points, including the Pistons’ last 19 in a desperate attempt to bring the them back. But in the end, the Knicks had more depth.
And they will need it in their next series. They face the defending champion Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, starting Tuesday night at Chicago.
The Pistons were eliminated in the first round for the first time since 1986. And their brand of play--physical, smart and defensively impenetrable--seems to have run its course, through championships in 1989 and 1990 and a half-decade of excellence.
“Our guys really played hard,” said Detroit Coach Chuck Daly, who probably was in his final game on the Pistons’ bench. He already has told his team, according to a league source, that he won’t be returning.
“When you don’t have home court, I don’t care who or where or what you are, the last game of a series is deadly,” Daly said. “They had the intensity. We tried to match it, and I thought we did a good job, but we just couldn’t come up with enough scores.”
Daly didn’t take questions after a brief meeting with the media. As for Daly’s future, General Manager Jack McCloskey said: “Chuck will make the announcement. He’s discussed it with me and he will make the announcement. He’ll make it probably within the next few weeks.”
New York’s Patrick Ewing was dominant in the second half en route to 31 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks.
Xavier McDaniel came through in the clutch in the third quarter, scoring 11 of his 19 points and grabbing five of his nine rebounds.
Gerald Wilkins responded to being booed in the first half with a hard-nosed effort in the second.
And rookie point guard Greg Anthony was solid in relief of Mark Jackson (out with a left thigh injury), scoring nine points in 15 minutes.
“Forget experience,” Ewing said. “You have to go out and get the job done, and that’s what we did. We played outstanding, we played hard and we were very focused.”
There were no open shots. The first half ended with both teams shooting 33% and the Knicks up, 38-35. Ewing was four for 12.
But New York’s pounding began to wear down the Pistons in the third quarter. The Pistons continued to double-team Ewing, but McDaniel started to squeeze in for offensive rebounds.
"(Orlando) Woolridge has never been known as a rebounder,” McDaniel said. "(Mark) Aguirre has never really been known as a rebounder. They had to put (Dennis) Rodman on me or Oak (Charles Oakley) and, to our advantage, they put him on me, and he’s trying to get back. That left me a lot of room to shoot the gaps, and it gave Oak a lot of time to bully Woolridge and Aguirre.”
Detroit briefly surged to the lead, but McDaniel’s three-point play with 4:55 left tied the game at 51, and New York scored 12 of the quarter’s closing 19 points.
Wilkins scored six points late in the period, and his jumper off yet another offensive rebound put the Knicks up 63-58 after three.
“The guy who really ignited us was Gerald Wilkins,” Coach Pat Riley said.
Wilkins’ three-point play early in the fourth quarter gave the Knicks a 68-60 lead.
Detroit fought back to 74-72 with 7:31 left, but Ewing started a 13-4 New York counter with a baseline turnaround.
The Pistons went without a field goal for almost six minutes, getting only free throws from Thomas, while the Knicks got another basket from Ewing, a three-point play from forward Anthony Mason and, finally, a three-pointer from guard John Starks to make it 87-76 with 2:39 left.
Thomas sank consecutive three-pointers to bring the Pistons within five, but that was as close as they got.