I don’t play basketball games very often, and the only one I play with any regularity is Strat-O-Matic Basketball (though this may change as I received a mint 1978 copy of Avalon Hill’s Statis Pro just yesterday – from my wife’s generous boss, who was cleaning out his gaming closet! – but I digress). And, itching for some top-flight NBA action on the tabletop, I pulled out the old yellow box and decided to replay one of my favorite series of all time: the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals.
The 1988 NBA Finals was the second-consecutive year in which the Lakers were playing with the championship on the line. The Pistons were in the first year of a four-year run in which they’d win the Eastern Conference Championship four times and the NBA Championship twice.
I played the first three games of the series with Strat-O-Matic Basketball Basic C&D, the last two with the PC version of the game.
Games 1 and 2 were played in the fabulous Great Western Forum.
The Lakers won the first game after jumping out to a 9 point lead in the 1st quarter. Byron Scott was a shooting machine, taking 29 shots and hitting on 18 of them, as well as going 10-for-10 from the line. He finished with 48 points, which turned out to be the highest single-game total of anyone* in the series. Isaiah Thomas was the Pistons’ best player on the day with 41 points, but Detroit never had the lead and never seriously threatened the Lakers.
*48 points also would have been Scott’s career high. According to the old NBA site, Scott’s career best was 38 (vs. Boston 2/14/88), his career high in field goals was 15, field goals attempted was 29. Had this game occurred in real life, it would have been the best performance of his fine career.
The Pistons were able to secure a victory in game two by dominating the Lakers in every aspect of the game. Magic Johnson, AC Green, and Byron Scott all got into foul trouble early, which meant shuffling players in from the bench. Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis, and Wes Mathews each played more than half of the fourth quarter. The Pistons controlled the boards to the tune of 60 rebounds, including 16 on the offensive side. This game was so thoroughly owned by Detroit that by the time it was over, I couldn’t imagine the Lakers coming back to take the series.
By halftime of Game 3 the Lakers led by 14, on their way to a 121 – 109 win in Detroit, and it was clear that anything could happen.
Magic Johnson led the way in Game 3, with a triple-double: 33 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists.
It takes me one-and-a-half to two hours to play a whole game of Strat Basketball with cards and dice. For games 4 and 5, I decided to move to the PC version of the game, where I could finish a game in a little less than an hour.
The biggest difference between the Basic C&D version of the game and the PC advanced version is that the fatigue factor plays a bigger part in the advanced game. Spreading minutes out and getting the bench involved becomes vital to success. With Vinnie Johnson, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, and Joe Edwards coming off the bench, I thought that moving to the PC might actually benefit the Pistons more than the Lakers. It didn’t work out that way, though.
Game 4 was close: 50-49 at the half, and the Lakers led by only 2 with about 1:30 to play in the final quarter before finally closing it out by a score of 115-107. The Pistons were handicapped by early foul trouble that ended up limiting Isaiah Thomas to only 20 minutes on the floor.
With a three-games-to-one lead, the Lakers were in full control going into game 5. Even if they lost this game, the final two games would be hald back in LA.
The Lakers were up 9 at the half, but a strong third quarter and an 11-2 run in the fourth put the Pistons up by 3 with just 5:32 to play. It was the first time in the series that a lead had changed so late in the game.
But it would change again so thereafter, as Thomas – who shot only 41% (11-for-27) from the floor in game 5 – missed key shots, Magic Johnson pulled down the rebounds and the Lakers immediately capitalized on the fastbreak. When all was said and done, Los Angeles won game 5 by a score of 122-116 to take home the 1988 NBA Championship, four games to one. Magic earned the series MVP award after tallying his second triple-double, with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists.