Kevin McHale explains Celtics' early exit from court vs. Pistons in 1988


During the ESPN documentary The Last Dance, truths about the beef between NBA legend Michael Jordan and Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas have been put under the microscope. And at one point, the Boston Celtics were dragged into the feud between the two sides.

After Jordan's Chicago Bulls swept Thomas' Pistons in the first round of the 1991 NBA playoffs, the Pistons left the court without shaking hands with the Bulls. In fact, they exited with just under eight seconds remaining in the game.

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Thomas explained during the documentary his team's decision to leave the court. And one reason he didn't think it was a big deal was that the Celtics had done the same thing to the Pistons during the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals.

"Adrian Dantley was shooting a free throw, and the Boston Celtics were walking off during the game," Thomas said. "And I grab McHale and then he stopped as he was walking off the floor. That's how they left the floor. And to us, that was okay."

Nonetheless, Jordan took exception to the Bulls' actions and that's part of what started his rivalry with Thomas.

And, of course, it's also worth noting that there was a very good reason that the Celtics had to leave the court early. As Kevin McHale explained in a recent interview, fans were starting to storm the court at Auburn Hills.

"Someone told us to get out of there before they stormed the court," McHale said per Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald.

And security did, indeed, escort the C's off the floor because, as McHale detailed, the locker rooms were not close to the court.

"You had a really long walk to get out of there," McHale said. "It wasn’t like the Garden or other places. You had a hundred yards probably before you got to the entry way to the locker rooms."

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So, that explains why the Celtics did what they did. And it's more than reasonable. Considering the potential security issue, it made sense to clear the court. But for the Pistons, who were defeated by the Bulls at home, leaving the court early made no difference; there was to be no court-storming.

McHale did stop to talk to Thomas briefly on his way off the floor. What was uttered during that time? McHale elaborated on his message to the Pistons star.

"I knew Isiah from the Pan-Am Games, and Zeke and I have always been friends," McHale said. "He said something to me, and I said, 'Hey, man, look, it feels just as bad to lose in The Finals as it does to lose in the Eastern Conference Finals.' I said, 'This (expletive)’s not over with. You guys got another series to play, so don’t celebrate too much.' I said that, then I walked off. That was just my advice to him as a friend."

The advice from McHale turned out to be wise. The Pistons did eventually learn how tough it is to lose in the NBA Finals. They were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988 before going on to win back-to-back titles to close out the '80s and open up the '90s.

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