The first true European NBA star, Drazen Petrovic always found plenty of challenges playing against the 1989 and 1990 NBA Champions – the Detroit Pistons.
As a rookie playing for the Blazers in 1989-90, ‘Petro’ got the rare chance of becoming one of the first European players ever to play in the NBA finals. It was his introduction to NBA basketball, fighting through screens and battling for every inch with the likes of the Pistons’ legendary guard triangle – Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Vinnie Johnson.
Later in his career, as an established starter and a star for the flourishing New Jersey Nets, ‘Petro’ used every confrontation with the ‘Bad Boys from Detroit’ to benchmark himself as a player. Especially knowing both Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were perennial EC All-Star participants.
So, each time ‘Petro’ wasn’t even mentioned (1992) or even elected to play in the All-STar game (1993), he used games against the Pistons to highlight his exceptional abilities and enormous potential.
The last of those games came at the very end of the 1992-93 regular season when on April 25th, 1993, the Nets visited the Pistons in Detroit. Even though Petrovic’s absence because of an injury diminished the Nets’ 1993 postseason chances, they showed a great deal of reluctance to bring ‘Petro’ back.
The comeback went down with a great deal of pressure coming directly from Petrovic himself – the NBA’s rising star wanted to help the team reach the postseason. But, on the other hand, ‘Petro’ also wanted to increase his stock as a restricted free agent who was about to enter a summer of contract negotiations.
With ‘Petro’ out and runnin’, the Nets managed to qualify for the postseason but lost the homecourt advantage, something they had before ‘Petro’ suffered the injury. On the other hand, ‘Petro’s’ statistics after his comeback dropped and were a mere shadow of his stats before his injury.
Drazen, hugely affected with a left knee injury he suffered in a late March game vs. the Bullets, was still getting used to the brace on his left knee, which limited his agility – one of the most important parts of his game.
Petrovic hoped to go shot for shot against Dumars., but the Pistons #4 opened the game in a relentless style – being red hot, he hit 4-5 shots from the field for an early 9 points. Petrovic was doing everything he could on the defense, but Dumars kept sinking shot after shot!
Even with ‘Petro’ constantly chasing him through screens and putting his hand right in his face, Dumars was flat out on fire – for the game he knocked out 11-17 shots from the field with tremendous ease, while also connecting 3-6 shots from downtown for a game total of 26 points!
‘Petro,’ who saw 30 minutes of action in his last NBA regular-season game ever, presented excellent shooting in the eve of the 1993 NBA play-offs, hitting 8-15 shots from the field for a total of 19 points. He concluded his 1992-93 campaign with an average of 22.3 ppg and #11 on the NBA’s best scorers list!
Many insiders believe that Drazen Petrovic if he hadn’t lost his life in the tragic car accident, would have taken the summer of 1993 to recover his knee fully. That would help him return to the only place where he fully belonged, with the Best of the Best – the NBA!