Detroit Pistons: Vinnie Johnson’s greatest playoff moments

The weather is hot so why not revisit The Microwave’s hottest playoff performances for the Detroit Pistons

He’s one of the greatest sixth men in NBA history, arguably the best for the Detroit Pistons, yet he never won the award. His #15 is hanging in the rafters of Little Caesars Arena, but he was never an All-Star.

Vinnie Johnson came to Detroit in a trade in 1981 and made his mark after being drafted 7th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1979 NBA Draft. Detroit was the right fit at the right time.

Johnson was one of GM Jack McCloskey’s marquee trades. McCloskey, known as “Trader Jack,” made a trade for Bill Laimbeer that same season. Those two players joined the #2 overall pick from the 1981 Draft, Isiah Thomas to become the building blocks for the Bad Boys.

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At 6’2″ 200 lbs., Johnson became the instant offense off the bench that every successful team needs and covets.

During this Covid-19 quarantine I have been watching a lot of NBA TV. There were a couple Bad Boys Pistons games that I was able to watch and Vinnie Johnson was a focal point of both games.

It was impressive to see just how athletic Johnson was. He could shoot, jump, and take defenders off the dribble. His nickname “The Microwave,” couldn’t be more accurate. He could come into the game cold and instantly turn hot.

After watching some old school Pistons and seeing Vinnie Johnson go off on numerous occasions, I wanted to revisit some of The Microwave’s hottest playoff performances.

May 5, 1985-Game 4 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals vs. Boston

The 4th quarter begins with Detroit down 87-76. Johnson takes the ball at the top of the key, dribbles between his legs to crossover the defender, and hits a beautiful runner.

That set The Microwave off as he scored 22 of his game high 34 points and helped the Pistons win the game 102-99 and tie the series at 2-2 in front of a rowdy Detroit crowd.

May 8, 1985-Game 5 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at Boston

In an unfortunate 130-123 loss, Johnson went off for 30 points in 30 minutes. He shot 11-16 from the field and 8-9 from the line.

May 24, 1987-Game 4 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston

In a 145-119 victory for the Pistons, Johnson came up big with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. He led the way for Detroit as they tied the series 2-2.

May 28, 1987-Game 6 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston

Vinnie scored 24 points in 27 minutes to help the Pistons tie the series at 3-3.

May 14, 1988-Game 3 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at Chicago

Johnson had 23 points in 25 minutes. He shot 9-13 from the field and chipped in 4 steals. The Pistons won the game 101-79 and took a 2-1 series lead.

June 3, 1988-Game 6 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston

24 points in 31 minutes on an efficient 10-15 shooting, Johnson led the way for the Pistons in the series clinching game and sent Detroit to the NBA Finals.

June 6, 1989-Game 1 NBA Finals vs. Los Angeles Lakers

19 points in 21 minutes for a 109-97 win in the series opener.

June 8, 1989-Game 2 NBA Finals vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Vinnie scores 18 points on 8-14 shooting in a 108-105 victory. Detroit took a 2-0 lead in the series.

The Microwave shined on offense like he was accustomed to, but he also had an impressive block on 6’10” Mychal Thompson. Johnson swatted Thompson against the backboard on a vertical jump, again showing how athletic The Microwave was.

June 11, 1989-Game 3 NBA Finals at Los Angeles Lakers

Vinnie hits the first 6 shots of the 4th quarter to finish with 17 points on 8-11 shooting in a 114-110 victory and give the Pistons a 3-0 lead in the series.

June 10, 1990-Game 3 NBA Finals at Portland

The Microwave finished with 21 points on 9-13 shooting to help give the Pistons a 2-1 series lead.

June 12, 1990-Game 4 NBA Finals at Portland

On 9-12 shooting, Johnson finished with 20 points in a 112-109 Piston victory to give Detroit a 3-1 series lead.

June 14, 1990-Game 5 NBA Finals at Portland 

Johnson scored 15 of his 16 points in the 4th quarter. Then with 0.7 second left hits the series clinching jumpshot to give the Pistons their 2nd championship in as many seasons.

The Microwave stayed hot in all 3 road games to help the Pistons finish of the Trail Blazers in 5 games.

Complex’s Brad Callas had this to say about Vinnie Johnson, who he ranked #3 in his top 10 sixth man list:

“The Bad Boy Pistons won back-to-back titles in large part due to Isiah’s scoring, Dumars’ defense, Rodman’s rebounding, along with the physicality of Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. When it came to scoring, though, there was Vinnie Johnson aka ‘The Microwave.’

Johnson’s greatness wasn’t in how many points he scored, but how efficiently he scored them. In a series-ending win against Boston in Game 6 of the 1988 ECF, Vinnie dropped 24 points on 15 shots; in two games during the 1989 NBA Finals, he notched 19 points in under-20 minutes of playing time.

Johnson would submit his magnum opus in the 1990 NBA Finals; After scoring 21 points on 70% shooting in a Game 3 win, Vinnie delivered a championship-clinching shot with 0.07 seconds left in Game 5 — The Microwave was born.”

He wasn’t the first great bench player, but he was one of the most important and one of the best players to ever do it. He played and performed at a high level for a championship team in one of the most competitive eras of the NBA.

Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson should always be looked at as a prototypical 6th man for any team competing for a title.

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