Bulls–Pistons rivalry

Bulls–Pistons rivalry
Chicago Bulls-Detroit Pistons
Post Season Meetings 16–12 (DET)
1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals Pistons won, 4–1
1989 Eastern Conference Finals Pistons won, 4–2
1990 Eastern Conference Finals Pistons won, 4–3
1991 Eastern Conference Finals Bulls won, 4–0
2007 Eastern Conference Semifinals Pistons won, 4–2

The Bulls-Pistons rivalry originated in the late '80s and was one of the most intense rivalries in NBA history for a couple of years, when Michael Jordan was evolving into one of the league's best players and the Pistons were becoming a major playoff contender.


1988-1990: The Bad Boys and the Jordan Rules

The rivalry started in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The aggressive Bad Boys, as the Pistons became known, were on the rise. Michael Jordan was the league's MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and the ultimate challenge for Detroit's rugged, top-notch defense. In a nationally televised game at the Silverdome on Easter Sunday, Jordan torched the Pistons for 59 in a 112-110 Bulls victory (He also burned them for 61 in a 125-120 OT victory the previous year). This infuriated Chuck Daly, who vowed never to permit Jordan to torch the Pistons again. Despite Jordan's individual talents, the Bulls lacked the talent and toughness to beat the Pistons, who ravaged the Bulls in 5. The Pistons went on to beat Boston and win their first conference title since they moved from Fort Wayne.

In 1989, the Pistons were stronger than ever, posting the league's best record of 63-19. The sixth seeded Bulls (47-35) had surprising success in the playoffs by upsetting the favored Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25 record) 3-2 with "The Shot." Next, the Bulls upset the Atlantic Division Champs, the New York Knicks, coached by Rick Pitino, 4-2. The Bulls then squared off to meet the team that was to become their greatest rival, the Detroit Pistons, in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls' miraculous success seemed to continue as they took an early 2-1 lead over Detroit. But the Pistons clamped down and employed the supposed "Jordan Rules" (which consisted of solely targeting Jordan) which worked so well for them the year prior. While the Pistons would remain mum about the so-called "Jordan Rules" when asked by the media, many of the Pistons today say that the "Jordan Rules" were made up and only another psychological ploy they used to try and throw the Bulls off their game. According to Pistons forward Rick Mahorn,

We were just throwing stuff out there. It was just a joke. Chuck throws it out there that we had some secret plan to stop Jordan, and everybody just jumped on it. Everybody was writing stories about this strategy. When we kept reading about it, Isiah told us that we had gotten in their heads, and that's how we had them beat.[1]

The Pistons took a stand and won 3 straight and would go on to win their first NBA title.

For the following 1989-90 season under new coach Phil Jackson, the Bulls sought to subvert the "Jordan Rules" by focusing on the triangle offense or triple-post offense refined by assistant coach Tex Winter. By sharing responsibility rather than shouldering it, Jordan led the Bulls to the second best record in the East at 55-27 behind the ever-tough defending champion Pistons who finished 59-23. In a pre-destined Eastern Conference Finals rematch, the Bulls pushed Detroit to the limit by forcing the series to 7 games. But the Pistons showed their dominance by winning it at home 93-74. The Pistons went on to win their 2nd straight NBA title in 5 games against Portland.

1991: The Bulls finally break through

These growing pains resulted in a stronger than ever Bulls team the following season. With a greater concentration on teamwork, the Bulls posted the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 61-21 record and Jordan regained the MVP award after years of being called a selfish player. At the same time the Pistons' armor was starting to crack by old age and injury. After their victory over the Atlantic Division champion Boston Celtics 4-2 in the Conference Semifinals, it was now the Pistons with something to prove as they met the title-poised Bulls. Still, some doubted Chicago and maintained that Detroit's psychological edge and bench strength would loom over the series. But three years of aches and bruises gave the Bulls the drive that not only inspired the greatness necessary to defeat the Pistons, but to conquer a decade. Proving their growth, the Bulls swept the Pistons 4-0 and ended the rivalry on a triumphant note. Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre, in their last show of defiance, walked off the court with 7.9 seconds left on the clock so as not to congratulate the new Eastern Conference Champions. Only Joe Dumars and John Salley shook hands with any of the Bulls. In the next round the Bulls defeated Magic Johnson's Lakers to capture their 1st NBA title.[2]


After the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons franchise went through a lengthy transitional period, as key players either retired (Laimbeer in 1993 and Thomas in 1994) or were traded (James Edwards, Vinnie Johnson, John Salley, and Dennis Rodman among others). The team quickly declined, bottoming out in the 1993-94 season when they finished 20-62. While the Pistons would acquire new stars during this period, such as Grant Hill and Jerry Stackhouse, they would never become serious title contenders until Joe Dumars, a member of the championship Pistons of the late '80s/early '90s and 1989 NBA Finals MVP, was hired as President of Basketball Operations. Dumars eventually formed a team very similar to his own: a group of players who played a hard-nosed, defensively strong, fundamentally sound, team-oriented style of play.

Meanwhile, the Bulls would proceed to win 6 championships in 8 years, including 2 3-peats, with an early retirement and return of Michael Jordan in between. After the 6th championship, the Bulls were dramatically dismantled: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman (who was acquired from San Antonio during the 1995 offseason), and coach Phil Jackson all left the team. The franchise would endure five difficult years of futility and frustration and would not yield a competitive squad until former Bull John Paxson (who was a member of the first three championship teams and hit the title-winning shot against the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals) became the general manager and acquired players to form a team with efficient perimeter offense and strong interior defense.

The rivalry returns

The rivalry was restored in the 2006 offseason when free agent Ben Wallace, the cornerstone of the Pistons' defense, stunned the league when he signed a 4-year, $60 million dollar deal with the Pistons' rivals of old, the Chicago Bulls. The impact of the addition of Wallace was immediately felt when the Bulls won the first regular season game in a blowout against the defending champion Miami Heat, the team that defeated the Pistons in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals.

The move of Ben Wallace stymied the Pistons early on in the season, as the team sought to look for consistency without their All-Star center. Joe Dumars took the initiative and signed former University of Michigan star Chris Webber, who was just released from the Philadelphia 76ers. Soon, the Pistons were able to regain their edge, proving that their vaunted defense that took them to the Eastern Conference Finals for four straight seasons was not dependent on Ben Wallace alone.

The two teams met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, both having swept their first round opponents. The Pistons dominated the early parts of the series, stifiling the Bulls' guards to sub-40% shooting to win not only the first two games at home, but also the first game at Chicago, in which they dramatically came back from a 17-point deficit in the second half. The Bulls fought back, shutting down the Pistons' offense in the next two games to win Game 4 in Chicago and Game 5 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. However, the Pistons regrouped and won Game 6 at Chicago.

Another Dormant Period

The Pistons made it back to the Conference Finals in 2008, but after trading Chauncey Billups early in the 2009 season, the Pistons steadily declined. After getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Playoffs, the Pistons signed free-agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and welcomed back Ben Wallace. However, injuries have demoted the Pistons from an Eastern Conference power to an also-ran, winning only 27 games in the 2010 season, thus beginning a rebuilding period for the team.

After missing the playoffs in 2008, the Bulls earned the No. 1 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, translating to the selection of Chicago native Derrick Rose. The Bulls steadily rose to one of the NBA's elite teams; after a pair of 41-win seasons in Rose's first two seasons, the Bulls signed free-agent forward Carlos Boozer, and with the development of Joakim Noah to one of the best centers in the league, the Bulls have risen to the ranks in the Eastern Conference.



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