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1990 NBA Finals

1990 NBA Finals
Detroit Pistons Chuck Daly 4
Portland Trail Blazers Rick Adelman 1
Dates June 5–14
MVP Isiah Thomas
(Detroit Pistons)
Television CBS (U.S.)
Announcers Dick Stockton and Hubie Brown
Radio network ABC Radio Network (national)
WCXI (Detroit)
Announcers Fred Manfra, Dick Vitale, Earl Monroe (ABC]
George Blaha, Fred McLeod, John MacLeod (DET)
Game 1: Hugh Evans, Ed T. Rush, Dick Bavetta
Game 2: Darrell Garretson, Jack Madden, Hue Hollins
Game 3: Jake O'Donnell, Jess Kersey, Joe Crawford
Game 4: Hugh Evans, Mike Mathis, Earl Strom
Game 5: Darrell Garretson, Jack Madden, Ed T. Rush
Hall of Famers Trail Blazers:
Dražen Petrović (2002)
Clyde Drexler (2004)
Isiah Thomas (2000)
Joe Dumars (2006)
Dennis Rodman (2011)
Chuck Daly (1994)
Earl Strom (1995)
Dick Bavetta (2015)
Eastern Finals Pistons defeat Bulls, 4–3
Western Finals Blazers defeat Suns, 4–2
NBA Finals

The 1990 NBA Finals was the championship round of the 1989–90 NBA season. The series pitted the Detroit Pistons (the previous year's champions) against the Portland Trail Blazers. This was the first NBA Finals since 1979 not to involve either the Lakers or the Celtics.

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

Renowned Pistons announcer George Blaha narrated the season-ending documentary "Pure Pistons" for NBA Entertainment, with MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" being the closing song.


The Portland Trail Blazers last made the NBA Finals when they won the NBA championship in 1977. In between finals appearances, the Blazers made the playoffs every year except 1982, but most of the time were eliminated in the first or second round. During this period the Blazers had excellent draft choices in Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Jerome Kersey in addition to game-changing deals such as trading for Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth. They also made decision that did not pan out as well, such as the ill-fated decision to pick Sam Bowie in the 1984 NBA draft to be the franchise's future at center only to have Bowie, who had missed two full seasons at Kentucky due to injury, break both of his legs and lose almost four full seasons of his career (which eventually led to the Blazers trading Bowie for Williams). But things would soon change when original Blazer Rick Adelman took over the team in 1989.

In the 1989–90 campaign, the 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. While the Pistons would breeze by their first two opponents, sweeping the Indiana Pacers and defeating New York Knicks in five, they would play a grueling seven game Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls. Facing each other for the third season in a row, the teams would give each other no road wins, with the Pistons winning the deciding Game 7 93–74. The Pistons won their second straight championship, and Dennis Rodman won Defensive Player of the Year honors. This despite losing Rick Mahorn to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the expansion draft.

Road to the Finals

Main article: 1990 NBA Playoffs
Portland Trail Blazers (Western Conference Champion) Detroit Pistons (Eastern Conference Champion)
# Western Conference
1 z-Los Angeles Lakers 63 19 .768
2 y- San Antonio Spurs 56 26 .683 7
3 x-Portland Trail Blazers 59 23 .720 4
4 x-Utah Jazz 55 27 .671 8
5 x-Phoenix Suns 54 28 .659 9
6 x-Dallas Mavericks 47 35 .573 16
7 x-Denver Nuggets 43 39 .524 20
8 x-Houston Rockets 41 41 .500 22
9 Seattle SuperSonics 41 41 .500 22
10 Golden State Warriors 37 45 .451 26
11 Los Angeles Clippers 30 52 .366 33
12 Sacramento Kings 23 59 .280 40
13 Minnesota Timberwolves 22 60 .268 41
14 Charlotte Hornets 19 63 .232 44
3rd seed in the West, 3rd best league record
Regular season
# Eastern Conference
1 c-Detroit Pistons 59 23 .720
2 y-Philadelphia 76ers 53 29 .646 6
3 x-Chicago Bulls 55 27 .671 4
4 x-Boston Celtics 52 30 .634 7
5 x-New York Knicks 45 37 .549 14
6 x-Milwaukee Bucks 44 38 .537 15
7 x-Cleveland Cavaliers 42 40 .512 17
8 x-Indiana Pacers 42 40 .512 17
9 Atlanta Hawks 41 41 .500 18
10 Washington Bullets 31 51 .378 28
11 Miami Heat 18 64 .220 41
11 Orlando Magic 18 64 .220 41
13 New Jersey Nets 17 65 .207 42
1st seed in the East, 2nd best league record
Defeated (6) Dallas Mavericks, 3–0 First Round Defeated (8) Indiana Pacers, 3–0
Defeated the (2) San Antonio Spurs, 4–3 Conference Semifinals Defeated (5) New York Knicks, 4–1
Defeated the (5) Phoenix Suns, 4–2 Conference Finals Defeated (3) Chicago Bulls, 4–3

Regular season series

Both teams split the two meetings, each won by the home team:

Starting Lineups

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ‡
Detroit Position Portland
Isiah Thomas PG Terry Porter
Joe Dumars SG Clyde Drexler
Dennis Rodman SF Jerome Kersey
James Edwards PF Buck Williams
Bill Laimbeer C Kevin Duckworth

Team rosters

Series summary

Game Date Home team Result Road team
Game 1 Tuesday, June 5 Detroit Pistons 105–99 (1–0) Portland Trail Blazers
Game 2 Thursday, June 7 Detroit Pistons 105–106 OT (1–1) Portland Trail Blazers
Game 3 Sunday, June 10 Portland Trail Blazers 106–121 (1–2) Detroit Pistons
Game 4 Tuesday, June 12 Portland Trail Blazers 109–112 (1–3) Detroit Pistons
Game 5 Thursday, June 14 Portland Trail Blazers 90–92 (1–4) Detroit Pistons

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.

"America the Beautiful" was sung by a then-unknown Mariah Carey, who would release her self-titled debut album on the day of Game 4. In response to Carey's performance, CBS Sports anchor Pat O'Brien quipped "The Palace now has a queen!"

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 NBA Finals, and Dan Majerle would also tie that in the 1993 NBA 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 NBA Finals. The record would then be broken by Ray Allen who hit 8 three-pointers in Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals.

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

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

Game 1

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June 5
9:00 pm EDT
Portland Trail Blazers 99, Detroit Pistons 105
Scoring by quarter: 33–24, 19–23, 28–29, 19–29
Pts: Clyde Drexler 21
Rebs: Buck Williams 12
Asts: Terry Porter 8
Pts: Isiah Thomas 33
Rebs: Bill Laimbeer 15
Asts: Isiah Thomas 6
Detroit lead the series, 1–0
The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
Attendance: 21,454
  • No. 25 Hugh Evans
  • No. 4 Ed T. Rush
  • No. 27 Dick Bavetta

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.

Game 2

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June 7
9:00 pm EDT
Portland Trail Blazers 106, Detroit Pistons 105 (OT)
Scoring by quarter: 23–30, 30–15, 22–24, 19–25, OT: 12–11
Pts: Clyde Drexler 33
Rebs: Buck Williams 12
Asts: Terry Porter 10
Pts: Edwards, Laimbeer 26
Rebs: Bill Laimbeer 11
Asts: Isiah Thomas 11
Series tied, 1–1
The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
Attendance: 21,454
  • No. 10 Darell Garretson
  • No. 14 Jack Madden
  • No. 42 Hue Hollins

The Blazers, playing surprisingly well on the road, had control of the game past the third quarter. Behind Bill Laimbeer, however, the Pistons made a comeback in the fourth period. Laimbeer, who had scored only seven points over the first three periods, went wild in the fourth and overtime, making 19 points over the last 17 minutes. For the game, he successfully converted 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 the game went to overtime when Thomas missed an 18-footer at the buzzer.

A hook shot by James Edwards and two three-pointers 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 gave the ball to Drexler, who was fouled by Dennis Rodman, playing on a sore ankle, with two seconds left. Drexler made both foul shots to give the Blazers the 106–105 lead. The Pistons quickly passed the ball to Edwards, who tried a shot from the left of the paint, but rookie Clifford Robinson blocked it at the last second. With that, the Blazers won the game and took away the home-court advantage.

Game 2 of the 1990 Finals marked the first time in six years that a Finals game went into overtime, the last being Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals.

Game 3

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June 10
3:30 pm EDT
Detroit Pistons 121, Portland Trail Blazers 106
Scoring by quarter: 31–27, 27–24, 32–31, 31–24
Pts: Joe Dumars 33
Rebs: Bill Laimbeer 12
Asts: Isiah Thomas 8
Pts: Jerome Kersey 27
Rebs: Clyde Drexler 13
Asts: Terry Porter 9
Detroit lead the series, 2–1
Memorial Coliseum, Portland, Oregon
Attendance: 12,884
  • No. 11 Jake O'Donnell
  • No. 20 Jess Kersey
  • No. 17 Joe Crawford

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

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June 12
9:00 pm EDT
Detroit Pistons 112, Portland Trail Blazers 109
Scoring by quarter: 22–32, 29–14, 32–27, 29–36
Pts: Isiah Thomas 32
Rebs: Bill Laimbeer 12
Asts: Isiah Thomas 5
Pts: Clyde Drexler 34
Rebs: Drexler, Kersey 8 each
Asts: Clyde Drexler 10
Detroit lead the series, 3–1
Memorial Coliseum, Portland, Oregon
Attendance: 12,642
  • No. 25 Hugh Evans
  • No. 13 Mike Mathis
  • No. 12 Earl Strom

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

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June 14
9:00 pm EDT
Detroit Pistons 92, Portland Trail Blazers 90
Scoring by quarter: 26–22, 20–20, 19–27, 27–21
Pts: Isiah Thomas 29
Rebs: Bill Laimbeer 17
Asts: Joe Dumars 7
Pts: Duckworth, Porter 21 each
Rebs: Jerome Kersey 9
Asts: Terry Porter 9
Detroit wins the series, 4–1
Memorial Coliseum, Portland, Oregon
Attendance: 12,642
  • No. 10 Darell Garretson
  • No. 14 Jack Madden
  • No. 4 Ed T. Rush

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, when Clyde Drexler fouled out, Portland couldn't score the rest of the way and "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, 8.0 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.

Quotes from the Finals

Isiah with his back to Porter. All the Pistons standing on the baseline. Inside 10 seconds, he still has it. Six seconds. Starting to drive. Dishes to Vinnie. VJ against Kersey puts it up...VJ SCORES!!!! IT'S 92–90! THE MICROWAVE SCORES WITH POINT-SEVEN SECONDS LEFT IN THE GAME!
—Pistons radio announcer George Blaha calling on The Microwave's game-winner in Game 5.
Well, I guess now the time has come. This is our last game as many of you may know. And it's really the end of a 17 year love affair between CBS and the NBA. For every member of our broadcast team and I mean technicians, and camera people, production people, the terrifically talented folks in the truck, where it all happens, and of course...the commentators, this has been an extraordinary experience. We've witnessed the careers of Julius Erving and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. We've seen Michael Jordan take flight. All the players actually...fired the imagination not only for an entire generation of NBA fans but for all of us at CBS. We know we leave the NBA in good hands. But to Isiah and Akeem and Patrick and David Robinson, to all the players and coaches...and you the viewers, we're going to miss all of you. So long!
Dick Stockton signing off for the final time on June 14, 1990 (CBS' last NBA telecast to date)


Injuries and age prevented the Pistons from scoring a third straight championship in the 1990–91 NBA season. They went 50–32 that season, but a mature and stronger Chicago Bulls team swept them in four games of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls won the championship that season. After that the Pistons dynasty broke up, with key players retiring or moving on as free agents to other teams. They would not return to the Finals until 2004. Dennis Rodman, James Edwards and John Salley would win a championship in 1996 with the Bulls.

The Trail Blazers won the Pacific Division title by winning a franchise-record 63 games in 1991, acquiring the league's best record. They were, however, denied a second straight trip to the NBA Finals, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games at the Western Conference Finals. The Blazers returned to the Finals the year after that in 1992, but lost to the Bulls in the championship series, four games to two.

See also


External links