Yes, Virginia, there was a time the Pistons played on Christmas

It has been several years since the Pistons were a bona fide contender in the NBA, thus they are ignored yearly when it comes to the coveted Christmas Day schedule.

The last time the Pistons played on Christmas was 2005 when they hosted the San Antonio Spurs for a 12:30 p.m. game at The Palace. The Pistons won 85-70 in a rematch of the NBA Finals from the previous season. Tim Duncan scored 20 and Tony Parker 17 for the Spurs, but that was about it while Detroit had four players score in double figures, led by Chauncey Billups with 20, as it improved to 22-3.

That was it. The Pistons have not returned to the Christmas rotation since then, but there was a time when a Christmas game was nearly an annual event. From their first season in 1958 through 1972, the Pistons played 14 times on Christmas, but only the 1957 game was at home, which at that point was Olympia Stadium.

Since their move to Detroit from Fort Wayne, the Pistons have played 23 times on Christmas Day, and they have a 7-16 record. They have played four home games: one at Olympia, two at Cobo Arena and one at The Palace. Perhaps the biggest – at least the most surprising – game of the four home games came in 1971 when the Pistons upset the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

The Pistons were without Dave Bin, recovering from eye surgery, and they had a 13-22 record against Milwaukee’s 30-5. There could not be much hope in Cobo that day, but it turned out to be a thriller. The Bucks led 81-79 going into the fourth quarter, and at remained tight as the game neared its final seconds. With Milwaukee leading by two, Jimmy Walker hit a deep shot from the corner to tie the game with one second left and force overtime.

Walker scored the Pistons’ first six points of overtime, but Detroit could not shake the Bucks. With the score tied in the final minute, Lanier muscled his way past Abdul-Jabbar in the lane to score with 17 seconds left. The Pistons held on for the 120-118 victory.

Lanier had a huge game with 35 points and 21 rebounds, and Walker scored 32. Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks with 38 points and 18 rebounds, and Robertson added 19 points and nine assists.

It probably was the greatest Christmas Day game in Pistons history, yet only 6,364 fans showed up at Cobo. Meanwhile, across town, the Harlem Globetrotters were putting on an exhibition at Olympia Stadium. They drew 8.158 fans.

Detroit Pistons on Christmas Day

1957: Minneapolis Lakers 106, Pistons 104 (Home)

1958: Pistons 98, Minneapolis Lakers 97 (OT) (at New York)

1959: Cincinnati Royals 121, Pistons 103 (Road)

1960: Cincinnati Royals 126, Pistons 119 (Road)

1961: Chicago Packers 118, Pistons 97 (at New York)

1962: Cincinnati Royals 131, Pistons 120 (Road)

1964: Boston Celtics 118, Pistons 106 (at New York)

1965: Los Angeles Lakers 115, Pistons 106 (Road)

1966: Pistons 129, Baltimore Bullets 127 (OT) (Road)

1968: Pistons 119, Milwaukee Bucks 113 (Road)

1969: New York Knicks 112, Pistons 111 (Road)

1970: Philadelphia 76ers 105, Pistons 100 (Road)

1971: Pistons 120, Milwaukee Bucks 118 (OT) (Home)

1972: New York Knicks 113, Pistons 110 (Road)

1976: Buffalo Braves 115, Pistons 106 (Road)

1979: Cleveland Cavaliers 111, Pistons 101 (Road)

1984: Philadelphia 76ers 109, Pistons 108 (Home)

1987: Pistons 91, New York Knicks 87 (Road)

1990: Chicago Bulls 98, Pistons 86 (Road)

1996: Chicago Bulls 95, Pistons 83 (Road)

2002: Orlando Magic 104, Pistons 99 (Road)

2004: Pistons 98, Indiana Pacers 93 (Road)

2005: Pistons 85, San Antonio Spurs 70 (Home)

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