This is a two-part series chronicling the end of two eras in Detroit Sports as both the Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena close their doors. You can read the Top 10 Most Unforgettable Moments at Joe Louis Arena here.
The Detroit Pistons have called the Palace of Auburn Hills home since the 1988-1989 season. On Monday night, they will host the Washington Wizards in the final game there before moving in with the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena for the 2017-2018 campaign. Over the last 29 years, the Palace has seen three NBA Championship banners raised, and several legendary numbers immortalized in its rafters.
On the hardwood itself, many memorable moments have transpired, illustrating the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat for the Pistons. These are the ten most unforgettable moments at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
10. Miracle Heave From ‘Sheed–March 26, 2007
The Pistons found themselves down three with less than two seconds to go against Carmelo Anthony’s Denver Nuggets. All the Nuggets had to do was successfully inbound the ball to ice the game, but Marcus Camby’s pass was deflected right into the hands of Rasheed Wallace, who threw up a prayer from three quarters length of the court and banked it home. The Pistons would go on to win the game in OT, 113-109. This moment is unique because most of the fans had filed out of the building, assuming all was lost. The shot also prompted a memorable call from George Blaha and Gregory Kelser:
9. “It Feels Good to Get Into the Second Round”–May 4, 2003
With those words, Orlando Magic superstar Tracy McGrady ignited a fire within the Pistons. His team was up 3-1 in the Eastern Conference First Round, and he had averaged 36 points in those four games. On the brink of an elimination at the hands of an upstart eighth seed, Pistons coach Rick Carlisle made a desperation move and decided to task rookie Tayshuan Prince with guarding McGrady. The gamble paid off, and the youngster soon to be known as “The Palace Prince” neutralized McGrady and chipped in exceptionally on offense too. The Pistons would go on to win the next three games by an average of 20 points, culminating with a 15 point drubbing in Game 7 at The Palace, a game that could aptly be dubbed “The Coronation of the Prince”:
8. Laimbeer vs. Barkley–April 19, 1990
This game, like many in this era of Pistons basketball, had some great storylines and intense fisticuffs. Now on the Philadelphia 76ers, Rick Mahorn, former Bad Boy himself, was back in the building, and the incomparable Charles Barkley made it no secret leading up to the game that he was not a fan of his teammate’s former partner in crime, Bill Laimbeer .
The Pistons played sloppily in a game controlled by the Sixers, and their frustration boiled over when Isiah Thomas was ejected for swinging on Mahorn. Shortly after this, with 14 seconds remaining in the game, Barkley and Laimbeer squared up, with both players landing some haymakers. Yes, there was a time in the NBA where fights were a commonality. Allow the late great Craig Sager to dissect this one:
7. The Lebron James Show–May 31, 2007
2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5. The Pistons had seen their 2-0 series lead disappear on the road, and now needed a win to salvage their home-court advantage. In this game, it was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ unstoppable force Lebron James vs. the immovable object of the Pistons’ lockdown defense.
Unfortunately for the Pistons, this game ended up being Lebron’s authoritative announcement to the whole NBA: He had arrived. James dropped 48 points, including the Cavs’ final 25 points in a heartbreaking double-overtime triumph. Two nights later at the Q, they finished the job and the first place Pistons were sent packing. For the Palace faithful at Game 5, they were all witnesses to one of the greatest postseason performances ever.
6. Mr. Big Shot From Half-court–May 14, 2004
Chauncey Billups made a name for himself by making some incredibly clutch shots during his time as a Piston. Although this particular shot in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semis did not win the game and the Pistons ended up falling in a triple-overtime thriller, there is little doubt that this half-court bank is Mr. Big Shot’s magnum opus. The Pistons would go on to beat the Nets in this series though, and then some.
5. Changing of the Guard–May 27, 1991
Between 1984 and 1993, only three different teams represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. From 1984 to 1987, that team was the Boston Celtics. Larry Bird’s star-studded squad ended the Pistons season twice in that time frame, before Isiah Thomas and the rest of the Bad Boys finally overcame them in 1988. When that finally happened, the Celtics walked off the court without embracing the Pistons.
In 1991, after three straight Finals appearances and back-to-back titles, Thomas and the Pistons became Bird and the Celtics. This time, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dethroned the Eastern Conference Champions after failing to do so the previous three years.
In a bitterly fought series, the Bulls ended up being too much, sweeping the Pistons in convincing fashion before winning their first of three straight Larry O’Briens. At the end of the game, Isiah led the troops off the floor without embracing the Bulls, a controversial display emulating the Celtics of old. It was the end of an era in Auburn Hills.
4. Big Shot Bob Sinks Pistons’ Back-to-Back Hopes–June 19, 2005
In 2005, the Pistons were searching for another set of back-to-back championships. Awaiting them in the NBA Finals this time around were Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, another team with winning experience. After the first four games all being blowouts in favor of the home team, business began to pick up in Game 5.
Down the stretch, the Pistons continued to gain small leads, only to see them quickly vaporized at the hands of Robert Horry, one of the most clutch shooters in NBA history. He went 7-of-12 from the field, and made five threes, including the dagger in overtime with 5.9 seconds remaining after being left wide open by Rasheed Wallace off the inbound. Detroit’s own Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups, failed to deliver on several critical late shots, and although the Pistons would answer back with a Game 6 victory, they would fall to the Spurs in Game 7.
3. Jordan Rules Reign Supreme–June 3, 1990
As mentioned earlier, the Pistons held off Michael Jordan and the Bulls for three straight postseasons, with each round becoming a little more tougher than the next. The key to the Pistons’ success against His Airness was playing relentless defense which employed aggressive physical play. These tactics became infamously known as “The Jordan Rules”.
With frustration in Chicago growing in 1990, and with MJ as hungry as ever, The Palace played host to the decisive Game 7 in the East Finals. Despite 31 points from Jordan, the Pistons were too much for the Bulls, shutting them down once more in a 93-74 blowout.
2. The Malice at the Palace–November 19, 2004
This is an incident which needs no introduction, as it is one of the darkest moments in the history of The Association. Still bitter over getting bodied by the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season, the Indiana Pacers came into the Palace for an early nationally televised tilt.
The Pistons’ Eastern Conference Championship appeared to be on watch for a moment, because the Pacers dominated the game and looked to be a legitimate threat to the crown. Then all hell broke loose. Ben Wallace shoved Ron Artest and a melee ensued, resulting in Artest laying down on the scorer’s table. A fan then threw a cup of beer at the Pacers star, and he charged into the stands and began fighting fans. Stephen Jackson joined him in attacking the fans, and many other players then spilled into the stands.
People were trampled, chairs and garbage were thrown, and the NBA sustained one of its biggest black eyes to date. The result: 146 games worth of suspensions and a derailed season for the Pistons’ division rival.
1. Goin’ to Work Pistons Hit Pay Dirt–June 15, 2004
After a 14-year layoff, the Pistons returned to the NBA Finals. Waiting for them was the heavily-favored Los Angeles Lakers, led by the dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. At this point in time, the East had been dubbed the “Leastern Conference” because seemingly every year the Western Conference would roll their Eastern counterparts with ease. The popular sentiment among the NBA community was “Lakers in three”. Many thought the Pistons would be lucky to win a single game in the series.
They proceeded to shock the world, winning Games 1, 3 and 4 in decisive fashion, only losing Game 2 in overtime after a game-saving Kobe Bryant buzzer beater. The stage for Game 5 was set, and the Palace was rocking. Continuing the trend, the Pistons dominated a Lakers team that simply looked overmatched.
The 2004 Detroit Pistons played a blue collar style of basketball that resonated with many fans of the area. Even though they played their games in Auburn Hills, this roster of hardworking players like Ben Wallace and Richard “Rip” Hamilton had remarkable chemistry and were synonymous with the city 37 miles down I-75. We may never see another team like them win a championship in today’s day and age of super teams. For that reason, the 2004 Detroit Pistons’ NBA Championship is the most unforgettable moment at the Palace.