Just over 32 years ago, the Detroit Pistons began their reign over the Eastern Conference by knocking off the Chicago Bulls.
On May 18th, 1988, the Detroit Pistons eliminated Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the eastern conference semifinals.
This is significant because it was the beginning of the rivalry the teams would have from 1988-1991, with the Bulls finally getting past the Pistons in ‘91.
The Bulls were slowly improving over the years while the Pistons were a power in the eastern conference. Jordan and the Bulls front office knew that the road to a championship ran through the Pistons, so the team had to be built to handle the mental and physical challenge that Detroit presented.
As noted in The Last Dance documentary that aired on ESPN, Jordan added 15 pounds of muscle after losing to the Pistons again in 1990 to handle the physical style of play. The Bulls also had to become mentally sharper because they complained about hard fouls and showed signs of weakness that the Pistons preyed on.
This is essentially the beginning of how Jordan and the Bulls would become dominant for years to come.
The Pistons beat the Bulls 102-95. Isiah Thomas led the way with 25 points and nine assists. Adrian Dantley finished with 22 points and seven rebounds. Bill Laimbeer had 19 points and 13 boards. Joe Dumars had 18 points and seven assists.
The game was kept close with back-and-forth scoring. Laimbeer was the star of the fourth quarter as he scored 13 of his 19 points.
His three-pointer put the Pistons up 86-82 with 5:24 left in the game. He followed that up with a score off an offensive rebound.
The Pistons held Jordan (25 points, eight assists) to just four points in the quarter because of double teams and forcing him to pass the ball. The game stayed close through supplemental scoring from Charles Oakley (19 points, 15 rebounds), John Paxson, and rookie Horace Grant (20 points, seven rebounds), who made 9 of his first 11 shots.
The Pistons moved on to the conference finals and defeated the Boston Celtics in six games. Then they lost in the finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
The full game can be viewed here: Pistons-Bulls Game 5 5/18/1988