Chevette to Corvette No. 18: The 1983-84 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 49-33
  • Pythagorean record: 50-32
  • Offensive Rating: 111.5 (1st of 23)
  • Defensive Rating: 108.1 (16th of 23)
  • Arena: Pontiac Silverdome
  • Head coach: Chuck Daly

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the New York Knicks, 3-2

Leaders

  • Points per game: Isiah Thomas (21.3)
  • Rebounds per game: Bill Laimbeer (12.2)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (11.1)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (2.5)
  • Blocks per game: Bill Laimbeer (1.0)

Top player

Isiah Thomas

In the rookie year for both Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka, Tripucka was Detroit’s best player. The next year, Thomas took a slight edge.

By 1983-84, Thomas had taken complete control of the team, at least relative to Tripucka. In addition to his excellent play with the Pistons – especially in the playoffs – Thomas won the All-Star Game MVP with 21 points, 15 assists and four steals.

Thomas finished fifth in MVP voting, too. He was a rising superstar.

Tripucka appeared headed in the opposite direction. Anthony Cotton of Sports Illustrated:

Although he’s the Pistons’ leading scorer with an average of 22.3 points a game, Tripucka has lately been criticized by some of his teammates. "Our white superstar sometimes doesn’t show up for games," said one, his way of saying he thought Tripucka was sulking over a slump.

Key transaction

Hired Chuck Daly

Daly made a huge impact right away in Detroit, but his legacy stretched well beyond this season. Simply, he was the best coach in franchise history.

Trend watch

Made playoffs for first time in seven years

With 49 wins (including one in the highest-scoring game in NBA history), their best record in 10 years, the Pistons snapped a lengthy postseason drought.

Why this season ranks No. 18

The Pistons had the misfortune of facing red-hot Bernard King and the New York Knicks in the first-round of the playoffs. How good was King? In Game 2, he scored a playoff-record 23 points in the first quarter. In Game 3, he scored 46 points to break his own single-game Madison Square Garden record and already break Elgin Baylor’s record for points in a five-game series. In the end, King averaged 42.6 points per game in the series.

And Isiah Thomas nearly eliminated him.

Most famously, Thomas scored 16 points in the final 94 seconds of regulation in Game 5, played at Joe Louis Arena because a motocross event booked the Silverdome. Knicks guard Rory Sparrow, via Bruce Newman of Sports Illustrated:

"God placed his hand on Isiah and said, ‘You shall play basketball, and you shall play it great,’ " said Sparrow later.

Isiah Thomas, via Eli Zaret’s “Blue Collar Blueprint”:

I must say that it was a wild scene. Coleman Young called me up and said, ‘Welcome to the city.’ Everybody in the hood was like, ‘Zeke, you’re coming to put on a show tonight.’ And being a city guy, it was almost like you were going home.

When I got into Joe Louis, the atmosphere was so electric, it was awesome. You can’t describe it—it made you want to get off. I just felt like I could do anything. The fans were screaming and every move you made, people were oohing and aahing—it was sweet. I’m not a Baptist; I was raised Catholic. But sometimes I’d go to a Baptist church and you’ll see what they call the Holy Ghost, where the spirit will take over their body and it moves them.

During that game I got the Holy Ghost—I just got the spirit into my body and I was doing stuff and making moves—I felt I was above the court looking at everybody and I could just do anything. It was great!

As well as Thomas played, the Pistons lost in overtime of that deciding game. Thomas drove home to Chicago in his jersey immediately after the game, according to Zaret.

All in all, the season presented tremendous promise for the Pistons and their superstar point guard. Anthony Cotton of Sports Illustrated:

Under Daly, Thomas. says he has felt "an incredible surge of freedom," indeed so much so that he has talked about signing a lifetime contract with the Pistons. "I really decided that I wanted to stay here over last summer," Thomas says. "I have a chance to be on Detroit’s first division winner, maybe its first championship team ever. I like being the first to do things."

Previously

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