The Detroit Pistons bagged championships in 1989, 1990 and 2004. They marched through the East, took on the best from the West, and emerged atop the basketball world.
But none of those teams can claim to be the best regular season Pistons team, an honor belonging to the 2005-06 group. They played 82 contests from November to April and came away with an eye-popping 64 victories.
History might not remember the 2005-06 Pistons like those aforementioned title teams. After all, not only did they fail to win the championship, they didn’t even get to the Finals.
But a 64-18 mark still deserves heaps of respect, so today we’ll pay a little Throwback Thursday homage to that dominant Pistons team from yesteryear.
Strong Out of the Gate
The Pistons came out on opening night and drilled the 76ers by 20. Then they beat Boston two nights later. And they just kept on winning. Eight wins in the first eight games. The merry-go-round finally got interrupted, quite rudely in fact, on the second end of a back-to-back at Dallas. The Pistons got down 24 after the first quarter and lost by a million. But still, the 8-0 start was a sure sign this could be a very special regular season.
After exchanging another win and loss, the Pistons reeled off another six in a row. After a single loss, it was back to streaking, this time for a season-best nine straight. Only, they knew even that could be improved upon. A week later, the Pistons drilled the Hornets, the first of ELEVEN consecutive victories. And these weren’t cheapies, either. The majority of the games during this double-digit run were by 20+ points. The Pistons were steamrolling the rest of the NBA, and their record stood at a remarkable 37-5. This was ’84 Tigers-type stuff.
A Very Healthy Bunch
To have a 64-win regular season, it goes without saying that your best players need to remain on the court. The Pistons had good fortune in this department. Look at the number of games played for the most important guys on the roster.
- Chauncey Billups -- 81 games
- Richard Hamilton -- 80 games
- Ben Wallace -- 82 games
- Rasheed Wallace -- 80 games
- Tayshaun Prince -- 82 games
- Antonio McDyess -- 82 games
That is unprecedented in the sports world today. Athletes nowadays take days off for no reason whatsoever. It’ll often read in the box score for a player that didn’t participate, “Out -- Rest.” And here were the 05-06 Pistons putting out a starting five and their best sub all showing up for 80+ games. It’s probably THE defining factor that allowed this group to compile the best record in Pistons history.
Consider this statistic as a good indication of just how steady this Pistons team was.
The longest losing streak of the entire season was TWO. And this only occurred twice. The second of the two doesn’t even really count since it took place during games 81 & 82 when the Detroiters had nothing left to play for. So for the year, that is 14 single losses and a pair of two-game slides.
The state of Michigan almost threw a parade this season when the Pistons clawed their way to 44 wins and an 8-seed. I don’t want to say the fans took that 2001-2008 Pistons era for granted, but looking back now, you do appreciate just how nice it was to have a top-shelf basketball team year in and year out for almost a decade.
It’s not often that a team in the NBA wins the title one year, gets back to the Finals the next, and then makes a change to its coaching staff. But when the nomadic Larry Brown is involved, such a sequence is not entirely surprising. So after the Game 7 loss to San Antonio in 2005, out went Brown and in came veteran coach Flip Saunders. And all Flip did was come in and lead the Pistons to 64 regular season wins.
It had to have been a huge relief for Saunders to inherit such an accomplished roster after many years of good-but-not-great teams in Minnesota. Consider that in the 13 full years Saunders coached a team other than the Pistons, he racked up just 17 victories in the playoffs. His three seasons in Detroit: 30 wins.
Only the Bench Was Lacking
Compared to some of the benches from earlier in the Pistons’ run, this reserve unit didn’t really stack up. There was no Corliss Williamson or Mehmet Okur or even a Jon Barry. It was Antonio McDyess and then a bunch of spare parts. You had a 35-year-old Lindsey Hunter; 32-year-old Tony Delk; Maurice Evans and Carlos Delfino on the wing; and an ancient Dale Davis taking up space inside. When these record-breaking Pistons needed a jolt in the playoffs from their subs, it never really came.
Playoffs -- A Different Story
Nobody in the league could match the Pistons during the regular season. But when things shifted to the playoffs, said dominance was nowhere to be found.
The opening round was relatively uneventful, a 4-1 dismantling of the Bucks, though that did include a troubling Game 3 massacre when Michael Redd popped for 40 points and the Pistons lost by 20.
The next opponent provided a far stiffer challenge. 21-year-old LeBron James pushed the Pistons to the limit. After the good guys took a quick 2-0 series lead, Cleveland stormed back to take the next three. But in one of the Pistons’ steeliest efforts in franchise history, they went on the road and escaped by the thinnest of margins to force the series to a Game 7. (Note: if you think LeBron’s supporting cast is lacking today, consider that Flip Murray played 42 minutes for the Cavs in the aforementioned Game 6.) The decider in Detroit was a bit anti-climactic, even with if the Pistons did come out on top. They would tally just 79 points, but that was plenty good enough when the Cavs could only muster 61, including a ghastly 23-point effort in the 2nd half.
Unfortunately, the fairy tale season would end in the Conference Finals. The Miami Heat, still bitter from their elimination a year earlier at the hands of Detroit, was committed to finishing the job this time around. And that they did.
The Heat stole home-court advantage in the opener, then smoked the Pistons by double-digits in all three games played in Miami. It was a convincing 4-2 series win, thus ending one of the greatest seasons in 50 years of Detroit hoops. The Heat -- with Dwyane Wade, and Shaq, and a semi-productive combo of Jason Williams and Gary Payton at point guard -- won the whole enchilada a couple of weeks later, knocking off the Mavericks in six.
For a Pistons team that had just rolled through a regular season with 64 wins and a whopping four All-Stars (Chauncey, Rip, Ben, Rasheed), getting trounced by Miami was not the finish most were expecting.
The Pistons proceeded to have a pair of very good years with Saunders still at the helm. They’d snag 53 in 2007, 59 in ’08. Again, both would end with losses in the East Finals. But neither of those clubs could compare to the outright control and consistency displayed by that 2005-06 team. To play 82 games and never lose three in a row is something only the very best NBA teams can claim.
It ended with a thud instead of a bang; but 64 wins is still 64 wins, so we show our respect with today's Throwback Thursday trip down memory lane.