INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The confettee had barely had time to settle on the floor of the Great Western Forum in 1987 when Lakers coach Pat Riley made a bold prediction. He announced that the Lakers would repeat as NBA champions in the 1987-88 season.
After issuing that challenge to the rest of the league the Showtime Lakers took off, making a highly expected return trip to the NBA Finals. Instead of their seemingly annual matchup with the Celtics, however, the Lakers instead found themselves matched up against the upstart Detroit Pistons in the battle for the championship.
The Pistons made sure to make L.A. work, taking a 3-games-to-2 lead in the series as the teams traveled to Los Angeles for games 6 and 7. In Game 6, Detroit guard Isiah Thomas put on a classic performance, single-handedly bringing the Pistons back from a third-quarter deficit. After scoring 14 straight points in the quarter, though, Thomas rolled his ankle after stepping on a Laker's foot. Returning to the game moments later, and noticeably limping, Thomas resumed his onslaught, ending up with 25 in the quarter and giving the Pistons the lead. The Lakers fought back, though, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sank two free throws with 8 seconds left - despite TV replays showing he wasn't touched, much less fouled - to force a Game 7.
In Game 7, on June 21, Thomas' ankle was in worse shape than it was for Game 6, and he was forced to miss much of the second half. The Lakers turned a halftime deficit into a 90-75 lead in the fourth quarter and they seemed to be on their way to a repeat title. But Pistons coach Chuck Daly put in a small, fast lineup, and the Pistons used the quicker pace to cut into the lead. The final moments of the game featured the teams trading baskets, as the Pistons kept getting within range of the Lakers but couldn't get the basket they needed to take the lead.
The final 15 seconds of the game turned chaotic. After a James Worthy free throw gave the Lakers a 4-point lead (and gave him a line of 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists), Detroit came down and made a 3. Needing a foul, the Pistons instead could only watch as A.C. Green dunked it home with 2 seconds left. The Lakers fans apparently thought "2" meant "0," as they stormed the floor. Meanwhile, the Pistons still had to inbound the ball. Thomas got the pass near midcourt, took a couple dribbles around some fans, and ... was knocked to the ground by Magic Johnson. The officials - possibly seeing they had no control over the game - did nothing, letting the clock run out, and the Lakers sprinted to their locker room before anybody could change their minds.
(The final 40 or so seconds are on this clip - but it takes about 10 minutes in real time. Skip to the 8:00 mark to see the chaotic final seconds)