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NBA CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES : HIS BEST SHOT IS GOOD ENOUGH : Even If Dumars' Skills Are Obvious, He Doesn't Mind Having Low Profile

June 12, 1989|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

He might be a big shot in fact but in lore, he is merely the other Piston guard. There's Isiah Thomas, there's the famous Microwave, Vinnie Johnson, and then, only after their parade has gone by, comes plain Joe Dumars.

Well, the parade order got rearranged Sunday, not for the first time in this series. Dumars scored 17 of his team's points in a row--while missing one shot--to keep the Pistons in the game and away from a defeat they would have talked about until grass grew at center court in Auburn Hills, Mich.

And when the Pistons took the lead, and the Lakers had a last chance to tie, it was Dumars, the All-Defense first-teamer, who blocked David Rivers' late shot--and then tipped the ball to himself and threw it to a teammate as he flew over the end line.

In three games of the finals, Dumars has scored 22, 33 and 31 points and, after shooting 40.9% in the playoffs, is knocking them down at a 62.3% clip.

"If Joe Dumars isn't the most valuable player," said teammate John Salley, "they ought to rename DisneyWorld."

JoeWorld?

Never catch on.

"He's not the least known," said Bill Laimbeer, as if offended by the idea. "You ask the players around the league who the outstanding guard on the Detroit Pistons is, they'll say Joe Dumars.

"The media doesn't know that much about him because they don't write about him because they like to write about calling us thugs. . . . So that's fine with Joe. Joe would just as soon go about his business, and nobody talk about him.

"Joe Dumars will always play in the shadow of Isiah. That's just the way it is. Joe Dumars probably should change his name to some kind of wild name for instant recognition."

Joltin' Joe Dumars?

Joe (Dr. Death) Dumars?

Never catch on.

The Pistons' MVP nominee eased back into the crowded dressing room to aw-shucks his way through a battery of questions.

"I just happened to get in one of those zones where a couple of shots went down and I wanted to touch the ball every time down the court," he said.

"Isiah knew it. Isiah asked me, 'What do you want?' Like, what play?

"We were coming up the floor. I said, 'The ball. Call whatever you want, but get me the ball.' "

Not that the Pistons minded, since they were dancing on a tightrope over major league embarrassment. Without Magic Johnson, without Byron Scott, the Lakers had, more or less incredibly, come from seven points behind in the second quarter to take a 72-67 lead in the third.

At this point, Dumars scored on a layup, following it with a 17-foot jumper and two 20-footers.

He fired up a brick from 22, then made a technical free throw, a 20-footer, a 15-footer, a 17-footer and another from 20. That's 17 points, shooting seven for eight, six of them from the free-throw line or farther out.

"We're still trying to find an answer for Joe Dumars," said Laker guard Michael Cooper. "Every time we looked up, he was scoring the big basket."

Lest you think this was some kind of a fluke, Dumars scored 17 straight points in another game this season, the division-clincher against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He bombed the Lakers for 26 points in the first half of Game 2, so they shouldn't have been surprised.

But they were.

"They were mixed up in the third quarter," Dumars said. "They were switching out in the first half, taking that shot away from me. In the third quarter, for some reason, they seemed to be confused over who was switching out. They kept getting caught up on a Piston screen.

"I kept thinking, 'Well, the next time, they'll get it straight.' And the next time. They never got it straight."

Ironically, Dumars, the closest Piston to the traded Adrian Dantley, has benefited greatly, on the floor, from Dantley's departure--and has told Dantley that in one of their daily phone calls. Without a low-post, back-to-the-basket, rarely-passing focus in the offense, the ball swings to the open man easily now and look who has stepped up.

Dumars finished the regular season in fine style, but in the second playoff series he ran into Michael Jordan. The Pistons used two, three and four defenders, sometimes simultaneously against Jordan, but the point man was Dumars.

Has it helped his game getting away from Jordan?

"A lot," said Dumars. "A whole, w-h-o-o-o-l-e lot."

The aforementioned Johnson-Scott threats haven't materialized and aren't likely to, so what awaits Dumars? His own parade at last?

They'd better fire up those marching bands in a hurry.

Dumars has his heart set on his Lake Charles, La., home, and Detroit in his rear-view mirror.

How soon does he depart after each season's end?

"Quick as possible," he said. "We're talking, as soon as everything is over with, I'm gone. I'm out of here."

And how long does it take to pack?

"Oh, my stuff's already in Louisiana," Dumars said, to laughter. "It is. I sent it back Monday.

"I'm a Cajun. I'll hang out on the beach, eat crayfish, eat gumbo, hang out with my folks."

Cajun Joe?

Fame waits for no man, but it's going to have to hustle to catch up with this one, or he'll be long gone, again.

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