Republicans finally found a way to rattle Donald Trump on Thursday night, in the melee that was the final televised debate before Super Tuesday. First Marco Rubio, and then Ted Cruz, smashed into the front-runner businessman relentlessly, with attacks that varied in tone, content and approach.
Rubio and Cruz hit Trump on immigration, an issue that is very much his strength, and on Planned Parenthood, an issue that sure looks like a weakness for him with GOP primary voters. They smacked at his business record - go ahead and Google "Trump Polish workers" if you haven't already - and at the many times he's found himself in court.
They were grave. They made jokes. Cruz interrogated him like a prosecutor. Rubio peppered him like a wire reporter from an old movie, mocking him as a policy lightweight and even talking over him like, well, Trump.
First maybe the first time this campaign, they put Trump on his heels on stage.
Know who they looked like? The Bad Boy Pistons.
In 1989 and 1990, Isaiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and their Detroit teammates won consecutive NBA championships. To do it, they had to get past the greatest player in league history, Michael Jordan, as he was entering his prime. They had a strategy for that, which came to be called the "Jordan Rules." It included attacking Jordan with shifting defenses depending on where he caught the ball on the floor, and more than anything, it involved relentlessly beating him up.
As Chuck Daly, the Pistons' coach, would explain to Sports Illustrated:
If Michael was at the point, we forced him left and doubled him. If he was on the left wing, we went immediately to a double team from the top. If he was on the right wing, we went to a slow double team. He could hurt you equally from either wing -- hell, he could hurt you from the hot-dog stand -- but we just wanted to vary the look. And if he was on the box, we doubled with a big guy.
The other rule was, any time he went by you, you had to nail him. If he was coming off a screen, nail him. We didn't want to be dirty -- I know some people thought we were -- but we had to make contact and be very physical.
Trump's rivals have figured out how to be physical with him. We'll see if they've caught him in time, or if he's on his way to a championship (nomination) of his own, like Jordan was (six times) once his Bulls teams solved the Pistons' schemes.
And whether they realize it or not, they've already linked themselves to those Jordan-slaying Pistons: "And in 2013, when I was fight against the "gang of eight" amnesty bill, where was Donald?" Cruz asked Thursday night. "He was firing Dennis Rodman."