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SI Flashback: NBA Finals

1976: CELTICS OVER SUNS 4-2
Finals MVP: Jo Jo White, Celtics

The Celtics won their second title in three years (and 13th overall) in an exciting series with the upstart Suns, who upset the league's best team, the defending champion Golden State Warriors, in the Western Conference finals. Game 5, won by Boston in three overtimes, is probably the best game in Finals history.

Snapshot from Call Them Champs Again

By Barry McDermott

Click for larger image June 7, 1976 Manny Millan
The clincher: The Celtics used their switching defense to stop Garfield Heard and Curtis Perry inside and get their running game cranked up. Yet the score was tied (for the 12th time) at 66-all, with a little under eight minutes to go, before airtight Boston defense finally produced a Phoenix vacuum. For almost the nest seven minutes the Suns did not score a field goal and by then Boston had a 10-point lead and the corkscrews in the champagne. The winners used textbook basketball down the stretch, scoring almost every time they handled the ball, the big play being a Dave Cowens steal from Alvan Adams that resulted in a three-pointer. That was the beginning of the end to a series that had more than its share of highlights.

 
They Said It
"It never gets old. It only gets old if you lose." —Havlicek

"We were no fairy tale. We were for real." —Perry

Classic: The incredible fifth game in the raucous Boston Garden on Friday could be used as a training film for the National Guard -- or donated to the Basketball Hall of Fame. It had three overtimes (first time ever in an NBA championship series), classic heart-stopping moments and a near riot caused by a group of fans who would have cheered the Boston Strangler. ... The disorder marred a game that should be remembered and savored like a crystal glass of vintage wine. ... The second overtime was the thriller. Fifteen seconds from the end the Celtics had a three-point lead and the fans were chanting "We're No. 1," though it might as well have been "Jo-Jo-White," so spectacular had been the Celtic guard. Then Van Arsdale scored and Paul Westphal stole the ball from John Havlicek, giving Perry a 15-foot jump shot. He rebounded his miss, took another jumper which hit to put Phoenix ahead 110-109.

The Celtics ran a play for Havlicek. Hondo had last scored way back at the end of regulation, and since then he had been practicing the 20-foot curve ball jumper. But now Havlicek put down his shoulder, drove down the left side past a wary Ricky Sobers and banged one in off the backboard from 15 feet out -- 111-110. Instant hysteria. The fans took over the floor. The problem, as Referee Richie Powers eventually made clear, was that there was still one second to play.

In the ensuing confusion, Paul Westphal came up with an ingenious idea. The Suns were to get the ball at the endline with one second and no chance at all. So when the floor had been cleared, Westphal called a time-out, which was illegal since Phoneix had no time-outs left. White therefore got to shoot a technical, which put Boston up 112-110. But the Suns had the ball at midcourt. They got it in to Garfield Heard who launched a jumper that brushed the ceiling and swished. And it was time for overtime No. 3.

Issue date: June 14, 1976

 


 
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