Isiah Thomas got the Detroit Pistons into the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
Now he says it's up to teammate and close friend Mark Aguirre to win the championship against the Los Angeles Lakers."I told Mark it was my job to get us to the Finals and now it was his to win it for us," said Thomas, who scored 17 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter as the Pistons won the Eastern Conference finals 4-2 with a 103-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls Friday night.
Along with Thomas, depth and defense did it for the Pistons, who won the last three games of the best-of-7 series after falling behind 2-1 when Michael Jordan scored 46 points in Game 3. Detroit now has gone 15 games without allowing 100 points, including 13 straight in the playoffs.
"It's a tribute to our work ethic and rebounding that we have that streak," Pistons coach Chuck Daly said. "Now that streak will be tested against the Lakers. But I'll be happy if we win 112-111."
Jordan, held to 23 and 18 points in the previous two games after his brilliant performance in Game 3, had 32 in the finale, but the Bulls couldn't recover from losing starting forward Scottie Pippen in the first minute of the game. Pippen was hospitalized after he was hit in the head by Bill Laimbeer's elbow as they both jumped for a rebound.
"This game gives us something to build on," Jordan said. "We went farther than anyone expected us to. Everybody tried to make contributions, but Detroit's a tough team. We did all we could."
Thomas was the scoring star for the Pistons, while six of his teammates scored from eight to 12 points. Dennis Rodman had 15 rebounds and Bill Laimbeer 10.
The Pistons lost to the Lakers in seven games in last season's Finals, but Detroit gets the homecourt advantage this time with four games at the Palace at Auburn Hills, including the first two on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Detroit had the best record in the NBA this season, 63-19, compared to 57-24 for Los Angeles, but the Lakers are 11-0 in the playoffs.
"We'll be playing a team that's playing the best basketball of any team in the last three years," Daly said.
Bulls coach Doug Collins said that Pippen's injury was not an accident.
"It was a tough way to go with Scottie getting another cheap shot from Laimbeer and Scottie ends up in the hospital," Collins said. "We lost the battle of attrition."
Chicago trailed 79-69 in the first minute of the fourth quarter before rallying with a 10-2 spurt.
Jordan started the run with two baskets in five seconds. After a jumper by Thomas, John Paxson hit a 3-pointer, a free throw and a long jumper, cutting the deficit to 81-79.
Thomas then scored 10 points in a span of four minutes as the Pistons rebuilt their margin to 94-84 with 4:40 remaining.
The Pistons took the lead for good in the third quarter as centers Laimbeer and James Edwards combined for 15 points in the period.
Laimbeer, averaging 7.0 in the series, scored nine points in the first 5:43 of the period as the Pistons opened a 66-59 advantage. Six points in less than a minute by Edwards helped the Pistons extend the margin to 74-65 before they settled for a 77-69 lead going into the final 12 minutes.
The Lakers are 11-0 in the playoffs this season, but the Pistons' 63-19 regular-season record gives them four scheduled home games in the Finals. Los Angeles was 57-24.
Chicago found inspiration after Pippen was knocked out as his replacement, Brad Sellers, scored eight points and Jordan 12 during a 26-12 spurt that gave the Bulls a 26-14 lead with 2:36 left in the first period. Sellers went into the game averaging only 3.2 points during the playoffs.
Detroit's depth started to reassert itself late in the first quarter as the Pistons scored 12 consecutive points, all but two of them by reserves, for a 26-26 tie with 11:04 left in the half.
After going more than seven minutes without a field goal, Chicago got three 3-pointers from Hodges in a span of 2:09 for a 37-33 lead midway through the second quarter.
Starters then scored all of Detroit's points during a 16-8 streak that put the Pistons ahead 49-45 before two free throws by Jordan completed the half. The Bulls trailed by only two points despite missing 13 of 19 shots in the second quarter.