The NBA is filled with great players who sometimes give fans a performance they'll never forget. Most times, these performances are more than skill; they involve a lot of heart and willpower to achieve the level of greatness only the best players seem to reach.
One of the greatest performances by a player occurred on the NBA's biggest stage, the NBA Finals. The date was 1988, and the game was Game 6 in the series between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers were the dominant team in the 1980s, winning four titles before the start of the 1987-88 season. The Pistons, who became a hard-hitting defensive force known as “The Bad Boys”, were looking for the first championship in franchise history.
After the first five games, the Pistons held a 3-2 series lead, despite the Lakers having the home court advantage. Game 6 was played in Los Angeles, and Lakers fans were ready to see their team get the victory to force a Game 7.
The Pistons blew a 26-20 lead after the first quarter to trail 53-46 at the half. Momentum appeared to be on the Lakers' side, and it looked like maybe the Lakers would run away with the game. Then Isiah Thomas decided to show up.
Isiah Thomas Sets Finals Record With 25 Quarter Points Despite Ankle Injury
Once the third quarter started, you got the feeling something special was about to happen involving Isiah Thomas. There was a look in his eyes that made you think that this player was going to do anything he could to win the game.
Thomas stormed out of the gate, seemingly scoring on every Pistons' possession. This was much needed as the Lakers continued to score at will themselves.
Thomas scored 14 points in about seven minutes of the third quarter. Then suddenly, Thomas sprained his ankle. He would limp off the floor as the Pistons' chances of winning looked to fly right out of the window.
What happened next was legendary. Thomas returned to the game after only missing 35 seconds. He limped back out onto the court, to the surprise of everyone in LA.
Thomas was hurt; he wouldn't be able to dominate as he did before rolling his ankle. Right? The Lakers held an eight-point lead at 74-66. They were hoping Thomas would struggle for the remainder of the quarter.
Thomas returned to the level of play pre-injury. He hit huge shots while limping back on defense. Thomas scored 11 more points, which gave him 25 total points in the quarter. This would set the record for the most points scored in a quarter in the Finals.
The Pistons stormed back into the game, and they took a two-point lead, at 81-79, after three quarters. Would Thomas' gutsy performance be enough to will his team to a championship?
The answer to that would be no. Detroit would have to wait another year before they were the team hoisting up the Larry O'Brien Trophy, which would come by sweeping these Los Angeles Lakers.
In this Game 6, the two teams battled down the stretch of the game. The ending would go down in history as one of the biggest controversies in NBA Finals history.
The Pistons held a 102–101 lead with 14 seconds remaining when Bill Laimbeer fouled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his famous skyhook shot. This foul caused the Pistons to be outraged, as the replay showed that Laimbeer did not foul Abdul-Jabbar, at least not in the act of shooting.
Abdul-Jabbar would calmly make both free throws to give his Lakers a 103-102 lead.
After a timeout, Pistons guard, Joe Dumars, took a shot, but it missed. The Pistons would foul the Lakers' Byron Scott, but he'd missed both free throws.
Detroit had one last chance, but time ran out before they could get a shot off. The Lakers won 103-102 to force a Game 7. Thomas set the record with 25 points in the third quarter, and he added 6 more points in the fourth to bring his total to 43 points in the game, but it wasn't enough.
The Lakers would defeat the Pistons 108-105 in Game 7, behind James Worthy's incredible 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists performance. Thomas struggled in Game 7 by scoring only 10 points on 4-12 shooting. His ankle injury clearly affected him, and the Lakers took advantage of this.
The Pistons may have lost Game 6 and the 1988 NBA Finals, but what an injured Isiah Thomas did in the third quarter of that match was legendary. It may be a while before we see a player break Thomas' 25 points in an NBA Finals quarter record, and if they do, will they set the record on one leg? I highly doubt it, but that's what Isiah Thomas did, and this is why he's one of the greatest to ever play in the NBA.
10 NBA Players Who Have The Most 20-Assist Games: John Stockton Dominated With 34, Magic Johnson Ranks Second With 22
NBA Finals MVP Award Winners From 1981 To 1990: Lakers And Celtics Stars Won 7 Out Of 10 Finals MVP Awards