SI Vault
Barry McDermott
June 14, 1976
After winning an incredible three-overtime game at home, the Celtics went out to Phoenix and polished off the Sunderellas to take their 13th NBA title
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June 14, 1976

Call Them Champs Again

After winning an incredible three-overtime game at home, the Celtics went out to Phoenix and polished off the Sunderellas to take their 13th NBA title

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Besides having to suffer an agonizing defeat, the Suns had to endure the attentions of a mob of sloshed crazies. Referee Richie Powers was assaulted by one extremist. Suns Ricky Sobers and Dennis Awtrey were ready to rumble. A courtside table was picked up and hurled into the air. A basket support was almost toppled over. And the elderly and woefully undermanned Garden security force stood virtually helpless as hundreds of snorting fans stormed the floor at the close of the second overtime, believing that the game had ended and that their beloved Celtics had won. In fact, a full, fateful second remained.

The scene, when play finally resumed, was not encouraging for Phoenix. "It's a fortunate thing that one of the players did not wind up with a broken leg or a broken arm," said an angry John MacLeod. The Phoenix coach had had to spend half of each time-out weeding Celtic fans out of the Phoenix huddles, and he harbored a suspicion that the chaos had intimidated his team in a way the Celtics could not. The Suns began the third overtime cautiously, as if they expected the worst from the crowd. "You never know," said Phoenix' Dick Van Arsdale. "Some crazy fan is liable to come at you with a gun."

"If some fan hits me on the court, he's in trouble," said the 6'10" Awtrey, the Suns' substitute center. "That's our territory. We can't go in their territory. They can't come in ours."

The disorder marred a game that should be remembered and savored like a crystal glass of vintage wine. It was so exciting that a dehydrated, haggard Coach Tom Heinsohn staggered into the Boston locker room and almost fainted.

The epic began to unfold with the Suns down 32-12 after nine minutes. Their best play until then had been the time-out. But MacLeod had taken a diverse group of veterans—some of them castoffs—and rookies, and molded a tough team. Patiently they chipped away, good poker players waiting out a run of doleful luck, systematically running their clockwork offense.

Meanwhile, the Celtics were being forced to shoot from so far outside that they required downrange tracking; in the last half they scored only 34 points. Both teams had opportunities to win the game near the end of regulation but Perry and Havlicek each blew free throws. For that they should be thanked. The score remained 95-95 and what took place thereafter opened clogged arteries from coast to coast.

The first overtime merely caused television sets to smoke, ending at 101-101. 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 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 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 Powers eventually made clear, was that there was still one second to play.

In the ensuing confusion, 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 Phoenix 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.

For much of the series, the Boston backcourt had been inconsistent. While Charlie Scott blasted away with the accuracy of a sawed-off shotgun, and reserve Kevin Stacom skated on melting ice under Heinsohn's heated gaze, only White, who later was voted the series' MVP, had held things together. But even Jo Jo could not finish off the Suns. In this third overtime it remained for reserve Glenn McDonald—at the stroke of midnight—to accomplish that. Just as the digital clock in the arena jumped to 12:01, McDonald scored on a short jumper to give Boston a lead it held the rest of the way, hanging on to win 128-126. On this night, at least, Phoenix was indeed a team of Sunderellas.

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