It was the 1970s and there was no 3-point line or coach’s challenge. The Pistons played in the Western Conference. The iconic Pistons “Bad Boys” were still “boys” — Isiah Thomas was not yet a teenager when Lanier made his first All-Star appearance in 1972.
But the essence of the game was the same: Get buckets. And that’s all “The Dobber” did for 10 seasons in a Pistons jersey and four-plus seasons in the Milwaukee Bucks jersey.
Lanier died Tuesday at the age of 73. The bruising 6-foot-10 lefty averaged a double-double — 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game — over a 15-season career highlighted by eight All-Star appearances (seven with the Pistons) and an All-Star game MVP.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1970 draft, Lanier had a dazzling hook shot, but could also shoot from the extended midrange. He wasn’t afraid to tussle on the court and was known for his toughness and ability to play through injury.
He was named to the All-Rookie team in 1971, scoring 15.6 points in just over 24 minutes a game, playing alongside Dave Bing and Jimmy Walker. Lanier put up 25.7 points per game and 14.2 rebounds per game in his second NBA campaign and averaged at least 21 points each season thereafter in Detroit, until he was traded to Milwaukee in 1980.
For those fans who may only know Lanier from low-definition highlight videos, or his overhand left into the face of Bill Laimbeer in the twilight of his career, or his inclusion on the NBA 2K all-time teams, here are some of the games that made Lanier a star in the ’70s:
Nov. 28, 1972 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Lanier was no stranger to 40-balls; he put up 40 points more than 20 times in his career, topping out at 48 in his third season vs. Portland.
The Buffalo, New York native put on a clinic, going 19-for-35 from the field and 10-for-12 from the free-throw line. And in true Lanier fashion, he used five of his six allotted fouls and pulled down 16 rebounds, also a game high.
Bing, another Pistons Hall of Famer, was left to watch — and rack up assists. He had just 14 field-goal attempts (he averaged 19 shot attempts that season) and garnered 11 assists that night to go with an efficient 22 points. What a tandem.
April 1, 1974 vs. Chicago Bulls
The Pistons were no good when they drafted Lanier (hence why they had the No. 1 pick in 1970) out of St. Bonaventure. They won 31 in 1960-70 and made the playoffs just once in the seven seasons prior. He had just led the Bonnies to the Final Four before a knee injury, one of several he’d suffer, robbed him of a chance at a championship.
It took three seasons for Lanier to make his first postseason appearance, then the team made the playoffs four straight years.
Lanier and Bing in their first series together went up against a Bulls team led by Bob Love, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier. The series went seven games, and Lanier stood out in Game 2, racking up a postseason career-high 38 points on 16-for-28 shooting to go with 19 rebounds. He also tacked on five assists and had just three fouls.
But Love matched his effort with 38 points of his own and Chet “The Jet” Walker chipped in 20 to give the Bulls the victory. Chicago would win the series in seven games.
April 15, 1976 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Lanier averaged 25.6 points and 13.8 rebounds in 22 career playoff games with Detroit, with one of his best games coming vs. the rival Bucks.
He didn’t quite match the 38 points vs. the Bulls, but this time he got the win.
With Bing no longer in tow, Lanier had 35 points in Game 3 of the first round to win three series, 2-1. Bob Dandridge scored 31 points for Milwaukee and Lanier eventually fouled out, but Detroit hung on for a 126-123 win.
Dec. 26, 1979 vs. Indiana Pacers
This game was memorable because it was Lanier’s last with the Pistons. After losing in the first round of the playoffs in 1977, the Pistons missed the postseason in 1978.
Injuries had worn on Lanier; he missed almost 30 games in 1978-79, and Detroit finished ninth in its inaugural season in the Eastern Conference.
The Pistons needed a rebuild, and in the middle of the team’s worst season (16-66) yet, Lanier asked to be traded for another shot at a title run. He was dealt to the Bucks for Kent Benson and a first-round pick.
In his final game with the Pistons, Lanier put up his patented double-double — 24 points and 13 rebounds — in a losing effort. The defeat was the Pistons’ eighth loss in a row, and in days, Lanier was a member of the Bucks.
He finished his sterling Pistons career as the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring average (22.7 ppg), No. 2 in rebounds (8,063) and No. 3 in points (15,488).
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