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1990 NBA Finals
1990 NBA Finals logo.png
Team Coach Wins
Detroit Pistons Chuck Daly 4
Portland Trail Blazers Rick Adelman 1
Dates: June 5–14
MVP: Isiah Thomas
(Detroit Pistons)
Eastern Finals: Pistons defeat Bulls, 4–3
Western Finals: Trail Blazers defeat Suns, 4–2

The 1990 NBA Finals was the championship round of the 1989–90 National Basketball Association (NBA) season, and the conclusion of the season's playoffs.

The series pitted the defending NBA champion and Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons against the Western Conference champion Portland Trail Blazers. This was the first NBA Finals since 1979 not to involve either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics. Additionally, this was also one of two NBA championships of the 1990s (the other being 1999) not to be won by either the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets.

The Pistons became just the third franchise in NBA history to win back-to-back championships, joining the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.

The key moment in Game 5 of the Finals was Vinnie Johnson's series-clinching shot in the final seconds. On June 14, 1990, Johnson landed a 14-footer in the last second, beating Portland 92-90 in Game 5 of the Finals, thus giving Detroit the World Championship.

Bill Laimbeer broke the NBA record for most three-pointers made in a Finals game with 6 in the Game 2 loss. Michael Jordan would later tie that in the 1992 Finals, and Dan Majerle would also tie that in the 1993 Finals. Later in the 1990s, Kenny Smith would break that record by connecting on 7 three-pointers. Scottie Pippen would tie Smith's record, as would Ray Allen, in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals.

This was the last Finals appearance for Earl Strom, a highly regarded referee, whose career spanned thirty-two years in professional basketball.


In the 1989-90 campaign, the Portland Trail Blazers posted a 59-23 record, and defeated the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference playoffs. Portland won with gritty defense and rebounding, the aerial highlights of Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey, and the deadly outside shooting of Terry Porter and Dražen Petrović. The team was ultimately defeated by the defending champion Detroit Pistons, led by Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars, and Isiah Thomas (the Finals MVP after averaging 27.6 points per game, 7.0 assists per game, and 5.2 rebounds per game in the series.) 4-1.

For the Pistons, the 1989-90 campaign was almost identical as the year before. Like in the 1988-89 season, the Pistons beat the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, won their second straight championship, and Dennis Rodman won Defensive Player of the Year honors.

The Pistons became the first team in Finals history to win Games 3 through 5 in the 2-3-2 series format which has been used since 1985.

1990 NBA Playoffs

Portland Trail Blazers (Western Conference Champion) Detroit Pistons (Eastern Conference Champion)
59–23 (.720)

2nd Pacific, 3rd West, 3rd Overall

Regular season 59–23 (.720)

1st Central, 1st East, 2nd Overall

Defeated the (6) Dallas Mavericks, 3–0 First Round Defeated the (8) Indiana Pacers, 3–0
Defeated the (2) San Antonio Spurs, 4–3 Conference Semifinals Defeated the (5) New York Knicks, 4–1
Defeated the (5) Phoenix Suns, 4–2 Conference Finals Defeated the (3) Chicago Bulls, 4–3

Series summary

Game Date Home Team Result Road Team
Game 1 Tuesday, June 5 Detroit 105–99 Portland
Game 2 Thursday, June 7 Detroit 105–106 (OT) Portland
Game 3 Sunday, June 10 Portland 106–121 Detroit
Game 4 Tuesday, June 12 Portland 109–112 Detroit
Game 5 Thursday, June 14 Portland 90–92 Detroit

Pistons win series 4–1

This would be the last series to be played on a Tuesday-Thursday-Sunday rotation until the 2004 series. From 1991-2003, the series were primarily on Wednesday-Friday-Sunday.

Game 1

The Blazers led 90-80 with seven minutes left and looked poised to steal one on the road. But, after a timeout, Isiah Thomas got the Pistons going with a layup and a jumper. Then Joe Dumars completed a three-point play and Aguirre scored on an offensive rebound. In less than three minutes, Detroit had tightened the game to 92-89.

Buck Williams hit a jumper to make the score 94-89, but then Thomas scored seven straight points on two free throws, a three-point shot, and an 18-footer to give the Pistons their first lead. With 1:49 left, Thomas put a final dagger into the Blazers by sticking an open three-pointer for a 99-94 lead. The Pistons went on to win, 105-99.

"America the Beautiful" was sung by a then-unknown Mariah Carey, who had not even released a debut album at the time. In response to Carey's performance, CBS Sports anchor Pat O'Brien quipped "The Palace now has a queen!"

Game 2

The Blazers, playing surprising well on the road, had control of this one as well until the final period. This time, Bill Laimbeer went crazy. He had scored only seven points over the first three periods, and then went wild in the fourth and overtime, hitting 19 points over the last 17 minutes. For the game, he laced in six three-pointers, tying a Finals record set by the Lakers' Michael Cooper in 1987.

The Pistons had a 94-91 lead with 49 seconds left after a John Salley tip-in. Five seconds later, Clyde Drexler, who would finish with 33 points, made a free throw. With 23 seconds left, Isiah Thomas missed a potential game-clinching layup. Terry Porter tied the game at 94 with a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left, and it went to overtime when Thomas missed an 18-footer at the buzzer.

A hook shot by James Edwards and two treys by Laimbeer gave the Pistons a 102-98 lead with 1:30 left in overtime. Porter hit another set of free throws to trim the lead to two; then Drexler tied it at the one-minute mark with a 17-footer.

Portland took the lead at 104-102 when Thomas fouled out with 1:10 left. Laimbeer promptly bailed the Pistons out with 4.1 seconds remaining by hitting a 25-foot three-pointer for a 105-104 lead.

Portland then got the ball to Drexler, who was fouled by Dennis Rodman, playing on a sore ankle, with two seconds left. Drexler canned both foul shots to give the Blazers the 106-105 lead. The Pistons quickly got it to Edwards, who got a good shot from the left of the paint, but rookie Clifford Robinson came over and blocked it at the last second. With that, the Blazers had taken away the home-court advantage.

Game 3

Joe Dumars' father, Joe Dumars II, died of congestive heart failure 1½ hours before the tipoff of Game 3. He had suffered from severe diabetes, which had forced the amputation of both of his legs in 1985. As his father's condition worsened, Dumars realized that the news of his father's death might come before or during an important game. So he asked Debbie, his new wife, not to inform him of any news until after the game had ended. His father had instilled such professionalism in Dumars, and his wife kept his wish.

Two things were stacked against the Pistons. One, they hadn't won in Portland in 17 years. Two, they would be without Dennis Rodman, whose ankle had stiffened. But Vinnie Johnson found his range for the first time, making 9 of 13 shots for 21 points. The consummate professional Dumars was the most potent, however, leading Detroit with 33 points on an array of shots. One such shot was a three-pointer that stifled a Blazer run after they had cut the Piston lead to 68-60 in the third.

Detroit won, 121-106. Dumars' wife then used a courtside phone to inform Joe of his father's death. Dumars decided he would play the next game but declined press interviews.

Game 4

The Pistons were plagued with shooting problems as the Blazers raced off to a 32-22 lead at the end of the first period. But Vinnie Johnson and Joe Dumars took over, leading a 9-0 run that pulled the Pistons to 32-31 with 7:49 left in the half. The Pistons led 51-46 at intermission as the suffocating Detroit defense held the Blazers to 14 second-quarter points

Isiah Thomas scored 22 points in the third and capped his onslaught with a three-pointer at the 2:15 mark that gave the Pistons an 81-65 lead and seemed to quiet the Portland crowd.

But, over the next eight minutes, the Blazers suddenly remembered the pressure defense and running game that had gotten them to the NBA Finals. They went 28-11 run of their own, and Terry Porter drove for a layup to give them a 93-92 lead with 5:20 left.

The game became a nip-and-tuck affair until Detroit led 106-102 on a jumper by Dumars at 1:16, but the Blazers fought back and had a chance to tie it with 35 seconds left. Buck Williams missed one of two free throws and Portland trailed 106-105.

Four seconds later, in a scramble under the Pistons' basket, Bill Laimbeer drew his sixth foul, and Clyde Drexler made both free throws to give Portland the lead, 107-106, with 31.8 seconds left. But Thomas responded by sinking a 22-footer that returned the edge to Detroit 108-107.

With nine seconds left, Porter attempted to drive on Dumars, but Joe blocked his path. Thomas scooped up the ensuing loose ball and headed the other way. Danny Young quickly fouled him as he let fly a 55-footer that went in. The officials quickly ruled it no good, but Thomas made the free throws for a 110-107 lead with 8.4 seconds showing.

Mark Aguirre then fouled Porter with 6.5 seconds left, and he made both, drawing Portland to 110-109. On the ensuing play, James Edwards got the ball downcourt to a wide-open Gerald Henderson for an easy layup and a 112-109 lead. Portland now had the ball and 1.8 seconds to get a shot.

The Blazers whipped the ball upcourt to Young, who promptly knocked down a 35-footer from the right sideline. Immediately players from both benches came onto the floor, the Blazers believing the game was now tied and the Pistons believing otherwise. Veteran referee Earl Strom, calling his final NBA game, huddled the officials amid the din and signalled that the shot was too late. Videotaped replays later confirmed the accuracy of the call. The Blazers were down, three games to one.

Game 5

For much of Game 5 it appeared Portland would at least send the series back to Detroit. The Pistons shot poorly starting out, missing seven of their first 11 shots, but still led 26-22 after one quarter. They held the same four-point edge at the half, 46-42, but the Blazers rallied in the third period, and with 10 minutes to play in the game, they led 76-68.

Vinnie Johnson then went on the first of two scoring streaks. "The Microwave" scored all of Detroit's points in a 9-0 run to give his team a 77-76 edge with 6:35 to go. The Blazers stepped up their pressure and again built a 90-83 lead with 2:05 left. But, "The Microwave" heated up again. Johnson scored seven points in Detroit's astounding 9-0 run to close the game and the series. His last shot was a 15-footer from the right sideline with Jerome Kersey draped all over him and 0:00.7 showing on the clock.

Isiah Thomas was named the Finals MVP. He had scored 33, 23, 21, 32 and 29 points, respectively, in the five games. From three-point range he had made 11 of 16 shots. For the series, he had averaged 27.6 points, eight assists, and 5.2 rebounds, a performance that caused him to unleash his full smile afterward.

"You can say what you want about me," he said, "but you can't say that I'm not a winner."

Television coverage

The NBA on CBS ended a 17 year run, as the league was moving to NBC after the 1990 NBA Finals. In their goodbye montage, CBS used Marvin Gaye's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. Pat O'Brien (anchor), Lesley Visser (the Pistons' sideline), James Brown (the Trail Blazers' sideline) (sideline reporters), Dick Stockton (play-by-play) and Hubie Brown (color commentary) called the action for CBS.


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See also

  • 1990 NBA Playoffs

External links

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