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|Before they were the Bad Boys, Isiah and the Pistons were a high-scoring machine.|
The game film is a blur; Detroit's Vinnie Johnson doing a goofy pirouette jumper at one end, English flashing his signature baseline fadeaway at the other, and Isiah and Denver's Mike Evans pushing it from circle to circle in between. The teams were playing just the way Nuggets head coach Doug Moe liked it: fast. The 1984 Nuggets led the league with a pace factor (i.e., possessions per 48 minutes for a team and its opponent) of 110.5, and Detroit posted a pace factor of 103.8 that year (today's Suns, by comparison, crank it up to 95.1). "At that time, if you go to Denver you know you're going to be in for a scoring match," says Tripucka. "They didn't run a lot of plays, they just kept running. We knew we had to play a certain way with them."
|Alex English averaged 25 points or more per game eight times in his career.|
|The Nuggets under Doug Moe|
The players were feeding off each other, even across team lines. It was a collective unconscious thing: Everyone thought of themselves as scorers in the act of scoring. "You hear people talk about a zone for individual players," Vandeweghe says. "That night, for both teams, whatever it was, we were in it." Laimbeer recalled how tight it was: "Neither team could pull away. It was just up and down the court all night, but it was a two-point game or a four-point game almost the whole way." Teams push and inspire each other. Guys on both sides feel as if they're almost collaborating on something with their opponents, and feel most definitely as if they're taking part in a shared experience, a phenomenon they'd be afraid to ruin, a transcendence they know they'd never be able to explain to anyone who wasn't on the floor with them. "We were running as fast as we could," Tripucka says, about to lay out the classic Zone Koan. "But the way the points were coming, and the way people were shooting, the way we were all shooting, I swear it felt slow out there."
In his autobiography, "Second Wind," Bill Russell described rare nights when two teams can achieve something truly special:
|Kelly Tripucka averaged 21.3 per game in the '83-84 season.|
|NBA's top offensive teams, 1983-84|
|1. Denver Nuggets: 123.7 ppg|
|K. Vandeweghe, 29.4; A. English, 26.4; D. Issel, 19.8; R. Williams, 10.2|
|2. San Antonio Spurs: 120.3 ppg|
|G. Gervin, 25.9; M. Mitchell, 23.3; A. Gilmore, 15.3; G. Banks, 13.1|
|3. Detroit Pistons: 117.1 ppg|
|I. Thomas, 21.3; K. Tripucka, 21.3; B. Laimbeer, 17.3; J. Long, 16.3|
|4. Los Angeles Lakers: 115.6 ppg|
|K. Abdul-Jabbar, 21.5; M. Johnson, 17.6; J. Wilkes, 17.3; J. Worthy, 14.5|
|5. Utah Jazz: 115.0 ppg|
|A. Dantley, 30.6; D. Griffith, 20.0; J. Drew, 17.7; R. Green, 13.2|
Vandeweghe remembers a lot of mistakes down the stretch, actually. "We were exhausted," he says. "The score could have been higher but there were a lot of easy shots missed late in the game. We were spent."
|At 6-foot-9, Dan Issel qualified as the Nuggets' "big" man.|
More than 9,600 people saw the game in person 22 years ago. For the rest of us, who've seen the present-day Pistons hold a week's worth of opponents under 70, it's a mind-blowing myth, a thing to be wondered at. It's not that we want that game or that style back (after all, the '84 Pistons were knocked out in the conference semis and the Nuggets finished with a losing record and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs). It's just that we like knowing, we need to know, that under the right conditions, that kind of "magic" was possible. Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2.