Classic Rivalries: Chicago Bulls vs Detroit Pistons

By @TrueGodImmortal 

There are some rivalries in basketball history that truly help shape an athlete to greatness. There are some rivalries that showcase a team's true dominance. The rivalry between the Bulls and Pistons worked in the manner that it seemingly did both of those things. Michael Jordan was approaching his status as the greatest basketball player in the game during the late 80's and he seemed determined to bring an end to the Celtics dominance of the East. The Chicago Bulls were a formidable team and Jordan would help lead them to the playoffs every year, but they would always come up short. As the 80's were coming to a close, Jordan found one huge mountain he couldn't climb: The Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons were firmly in the Bad Boys Era. As the 1988 playoffs began, they seemed to be poised for a big run and led by Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, and others, they were a tough team, likely one of the toughest we've ever seen. Jordan was no stranger to the Pistons, as he torched them for 62 points in 1987 and would have a huge 59 point game against them in OT in 1988. However, after getting beyond the first round of the playoffs, the Bulls would face a tough challenge in the Pistons for the 1988 Semifinals. Michael Jordan was riding a wave of momentum, as he was the MVP and the defensive player of the year and the leading scorer in the NBA. The biggest knock on Jordan at this time was that he was a one man show, and if a team knew how to neutralize him, the Bulls would be in trouble. No team could stop Jordan it seemed, except the Pistons.

Implementation of what would be known as the "Jordan Rules", where Jordan was solely targeted, would be effective for Detroit as they were able to handle the Bulls in 5 games. The Pistons would go on to win the Eastern Conference title and make the Finals before a heart breaking loss to the Lakers. Jordan, with his mind focused on redemption, would work hard to come back the next year and lead the Bulls to the playoffs yet again. The Bulls began working on a plan to overcome the hurdle they ran into the year before, and the next year, we would see the Bulls and Pistons face off yet again in the playoffs, this time in the Conference Finals.

Could Jordan gain his redemption? It certainly seemed as if they could, as the Bulls took an early 2-1 series lead over the Pistons. However, the Pistons began to get inside Michael's head and that would prove to be a bit disastrous for the Bulls as the Pistons would go on to take the next 3 games straight and head back to the NBA Finals, this time winning the championship over the Lakers. Jordan would be frustrated, as he saw the pinnacle right in front of him and just needed one last piece to help lead him beyond his demon of the Pistons. Jordan knew he could defeat the Pistons. He knew he could beat them. What he didn't know was how to effectively take them out of their game and get a big win playoff victory. The next year would be telling in many ways.

Jordan and his new coach Phil Jackson began using the triangle offense, and it would be very effective. Of course, with utilizing a new offense, there are some challenges, but the Bulls finished with a great record and another showdown with the Pistons seemed imminent. Certainly, the East was being dominated in essence by the Bulls and Pistons and this would prove true as another battle between the Bulls and Pistons would happen in the 1990 Conference Finals. This would be a fight to the finish as the Bulls took it to the Pistons and almost seemed to have them finally figured out. The 7 game series was amazing and although the Bulls lost, they put in their best playoff performance yet against the Pistons. The Pistons would go on to win their 2nd straight title, but the Bulls would take a great lesson going forward.

The following season saw a different Michael Jordan. He was much more of a team player, and a true leader for his whole team, as he led the Bulls to a 61-21 record and won another MVP award. This would be the season where the Bulls finally overcame their demons, as they would have the Pistons number this go round, and emphatically sweep them in the third straight meeting of the two teams in the Conference Finals. The Bulls finally figured out the Pistons and closed out this rivalry, winning the 1991 NBA title and going on to create a dynasty. The Bulls became stronger and a powerhouse as a result of this intense battle.

The rivalry between the teams spans a lot longer than that however, as Isiah Thomas and Jordan were sworn enemies as they attempted to keep Jordan from being active in the All Star game and then when the Bulls finally beat the Pistons, Isiah refused to shake hands with the Bulls after the game. This was an intense show of competition and also a bit of petty egos, but the rivalry is one of the most exciting to revisit. In recent years, they've only had one battle in the playoffs, during the 2007 series where the Pistons defeated the Bulls 4-2 in the Semifinals and they had an amazing multiple OT game this year, but at the end of the day, the Bulls and the Pistons rivalry is rooted in the late 80's and early 90's. It is a prime rivalry of a dominant team and the rising star and his growing dynasty. A passing of the torch in many ways. Bulls. Pistons. Legendary.



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