SI Vault
Peter Carry
May 07, 1973
The exultant Knicks knocked off the Celtics in the last game of their playoff series to go into the finals against Los Angeles
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May 07, 1973

In Seven, As In Heaven

The exultant Knicks knocked off the Celtics in the last game of their playoff series to go into the finals against Los Angeles

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When Havlicek, wearing a brown blazer and checked trousers, walked across the Madison Square Garden court before the tip-off for the fourth game he was greeted by warm applause. It was a rare display of sportsmanship by New York's fans and, to a degree, self-serving, since they could well afford it. With Havlicek sitting on the bench in street clothes, it seemed certain the Knicks would finish the afternoon with a 3-1 series lead, the kind that is usually described as insurmountable.

True, but just barely. The Knicks were lax on defense, lethargic on offense. The team seemed to miss Monroe—who had bruised his right hip shortly before Havlicek had hurt his shoulder and was also on the bench—more than Boston missed Havlicek. By the end of the third quarter Cowens and White had 48 points between them, Silas had 21 rebounds all by himself and Boston led by 16 points.

Then Frazier went to work. Going into the final period he had scored 12 points. One quarter and two overtimes later, when the Knicks had won, 117-110, he had 37. He stole the ball and sprinted off for breakaway baskets; he directed fast breaks; he hit long jumpers and powerful drives against a defense zeroed in on him; twice he darted in for rebounds of his own missed shots and fired home jumpers.

And Frazier had some unexpected help. It-came from his roommate, 6'10" rookie John Gianelli. Holzman, who later admitted it was a desperate gamble, sent Gianelli in when the Knicks trailed during the first overtime. He played the rest of the game, controlled the backboards, scored four of his 10 points and finished off Boston by blocking a potential game-tying shot by Cowens and drawing Dave's sixth foul on the same play.

The form of the fourth game persisted into the fifth at Boston, even though Havlicek came off the bench to score 18 points. The Celts took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter, and again New York pressured them out of the lead. The Knicks held Boston to one field goal in the final 8:12, a 30-foot heave by Silas, the team's poorest outside shooter. In fact, the Knick defense may have been too good. With seven seconds to play and the Celts behind by a point, Frazier forced White to shoot an off-balance, twisting jumper as he scampered across the lane. Three New York rebounders, their backs to the shooter, surrounded the basket. If the shot had hit the rim, one of them almost surely would have grabbed it. Instead, it fell short and into the hands of Silas, who had barreled across from the other side of the basket into what is usually bad rebounding position—directly below the goal and facing the court. DeBusschere fouled Silas, who made two free throws even though he is also the worst foul-shooter among Boston's regulars, and the Celts won 98-97.

Boston's strategy in the sixth game, which it won 110-100, was to prevent New York from concentrating its defense. Silas and Don Chaney, the most reluctant Celtic shooters, were told to fire away and they did, making 13 of 18 shots. Those tactics paid off in the fourth period, which began with the score tied 82-82, because by then the Knicks' defense was no longer oriented to clogging the middle against Cowens. The Boston center put on a game-ending performance equal to Frazier's two games earlier. He blasted past Jerry Lucas for sweeping hooks and open jumpers; he grabbed seven of his team's nine rebounds in the final quarter and on defense he switched off, stepped out and so bothered New York's shooters that they made only eight of 23 shots, many of them from far outside.

"If his shots are dropping in, there's nothing I can do with him," said Lucas with a shrug. "He's so quick, he's like a 6'9" Jerry West. One minute he's standing in front of you and the next he's gone, rolling in toward the basket or straight up in the air shooting his jumper. It's like he disappears." And so it was not until Sunday that the gallant Celtics all disappeared.

The Knicks must find a way to contend with a center who is very much there as they confront Wilt Chamberlain and the rest of the Lakers this week. The two teams have played in the finals twice in the previous three seasons, but the past may be no guide to the current series. The Knicks are no longer the team they were three years ago when Willis Reed led them to the championship, sustaining an injury en route that still curtails his effectiveness. And the Lakers are not quite the powerhouse that overwhelmed New York 4-1 last year. Happy Hairston is coming off surgery and a slower Bill Bridges figures to play much more than Happy. Chamberlain's zest for the game occasionally seemed diminished during the season, but he had an aroused series against Golden State. He will have to do the same against the Knicks if the Lakers are to repeat as champions.

It is likely both offenses will struggle in this series and that could make Jerry West and Frazier (see cover), the two best guards in the pros, even more important than usual. Both are looked to by their teams to make the pressure baskets in close games, to use their extraordinary senses of anticipation to make rally-starting steals.

"It will be nice to see Jerry," said Frazier with a grin after the final win in the Boston Garden. "Between us it is going to be a battle of pride." And a battle between the old champion and a young one. West, who will turn 35 later this month, is approaching the end of his career, while at 28 Frazier is at the top of his game.

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