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The Detroit Pistons were on the verge of taking over the reins in the Eastern Conference. They just weren’t quite there yet. Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, and the so-called Bad Boys met the Boston Celtics in the 1987 Eastern Conference and blamed everyone but themselves for throwing away a berth in the 1987 NBA Finals.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics pulled off a stunner against the Detroit Pistons in the 1987 conference finals

Vinnie Johnson of the Detroit Pistons looks to pass the ball in front of Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics during an NBA game circa 1987 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The Boston Celtics were looking for a title repeat. The Detroit Pistons wanted to show them who’s boss. Led by Larry Bird, the Celtics had won three championships in the decade, while the up-and-coming Pistons were starting to come into their own as a legitimate Eastern Conference threat.

They met during the ’87 conference finals with a spot in the championship round on the line. During the early part of the series, things got heated.

Laimbeer, arguably the most hated player in the NBA because of his cheap-shot antics and dirty play, took down Bird with a hard foul in Game 3 and was ejected. Bird retaliated by throwing the ball at the Pistons center, and he, too, was tossed.

In Game 5, Celtics center Robert Parish had enough of Laimbeer and uncharacteristically lost his cool. While in the paint going for a rebound, Parish pummeled Laimbeer, who had his back to the Celtics center. No foul was called, although Parish was suspended for Game 6 because of the incident.

The Pistons had every opportunity to win Game 5 and take a 3-2 series lead back home. Instead, they literally threw it away, or the Celtics literally stole it from them. Leading by a point with five seconds left, Pistons guard Isiah Thomas lobbed the ball in play with a pass intended for Laimbeer. Bird stepped in front of Laimbeer, picked it off, and fired a pass to a cutting Dennis Johnson. DJ made the game-winning layup in Boston’s improbable 108-107 win.

Although Detroit won Game 6 at home, the Celtics closed out the series with a 117-114 win in Game 7.

Bird and the Celtics never got any credit from the Pistons


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When the series ended and the Celtics were off to face the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals for the third time in the decade, the Pistons sulked. The Celtics were the better team. They owned the Pistons, especially in Boston. Detroit hadn’t won a game at the Boston Garden in their last 18 attempts. Still, Laimbeer and the rest of those Bad Boys couldn’t admit the better team won.

“Bounce of the ball,” he said after Game 7, per Sports Illustrated. “That’s what won this series.”

Thomas implied the Celtics got preferential treatment from the referees at home when asked what he thought the difference in the series was.

“I think everyone in America knows the answer,” Thomas said.

Rodman couldn’t even admit the Bird was a great player, despite putting the final nail in Detroit’s coffin with a 37-point performance in the finale.

“Overrated…definitely not the best player in the NBA,” Rodman said. Rodman admitted that Bird was smart, “but, after that, he’s just a decent player.”

Although the Celtics fell to the Lakers in the 1987 NBA Finals, they still showed their dominance over the Pistons — even if that was the final time.