1969: Celtics versus Lakers Round Seven (Russell’s Last Season)

Background

Heading into the 1969 season, it was suspected that both Sam Jones and Bill Russell would retire. Expectations were low as many thought this year would be the end of the Celtics’ dynasty. Nevertheless, they won 48 games in the regular season and entered the playoffs as underdogs. Without homecourt advantage, Boston defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round in five games. Facing the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics won a pivotal game four to go up 3-1, and Boston finished the Knicks in six games to reach their second straight NBA Finals.

After losing the 1968 NBA Finals, the Lakers traded for four-time MVP Wilt Chamberlain to shore up the inside. Chamberlain famously clashed with Los Angeles’ coach Butch Van Breda Kolff, but the Lakers still managed to win 55 games, the most in the west. In the playoffs, Los Angeles faced the San Francisco Warriors and were forced to win four straight games after falling behind 2-0. In the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers easily defeated the Atlanta Hawks in five games to reach the NBA Finals for the second straight season.

Lineups

The Celtics’ starting backcourt consisted of Em Bryant at point guard next to Sam Jones at shooting guard. In the frontcourt, former sixth man John Havlicek started at small forward alongside Bailey Howell at power forward and five-time MVP Bill Russell at center in the middle.

Off the bench, Larry Siegfried served as the primary backup in the backcourt, while Don Nelson functioned as the third forward on the roster. Players to see limited minutes in the NBA Finals include Tom Sanders and Don Chaney.

For the Lakers, Johnny Egan stepped in as the starting point guard in the backcourt alongside superstar Jerry West at shooting guard. In the frontcourt, Keith Erickson started at small forward alongside power forward Elgin Baylor and newly acquired Wilt Chamberlain at center.

As for the Los Angeles reserves, Tom Hawkins functioned as the third forward on the roster, and Mel Counts served as a backup big man. Bill Hewitt played limited minutes as a fourth forward, and Freddie Crawford barely played in the NBA Finals.

Game One: Celtics 118, Lakers 120

West was unstoppable as he dropped 53 points in a game that saw 21 lead changes. Chamberlain scored a clutch basket with 23 seconds left that proved to be the winning basket. Havlicek scored 37 points to lead Boston in the loss.

Game Two: Celtics 112, Lakers 118

West continued his dominance as he scored 41 points against the Celtics’ guards. Egan and Baylor helped out with 26 and 31 points respectively as the Lakers took a commanding 2-0 series lead. Havlicek erupted for 43 points but fouled out as the series moved to Boston for game three and four.

Game Three: Lakers 105, Celtics 111

Russell finally decided to double-team the scorching Jerry West, and it worked out for Boston. Havlicek was the high scorer for the Celtics, pouring in 34 points as Boston won their first game of the series. The Lakers struggled to score as West finished with only 24 points.

Game Four: Lakers 88, Celtics 89

An ugly game that featured 50 turnovers and poor shooting by both teams came down to the last possession. With seven seconds left, Jones caught a pass and put up a jumper that bounced off the front and back rim before falling through to tie the series at two games apiece with the series headed back to Los Angeles. West tallied 40 to lead all scorers, but no other Laker scored more than 16.

Game Five: Celtics 104, Lakers 117

Frustrated by their close game four loss, the Lakers overran the Celtics en route to a 3-2 series lead. West injured his leg late in the game despite scoring 39 points, an unlucky turn of events that would hamper him for the rest of the series. Sam Jones was Boston’s high scorer with 25 points.

Game Six: Lakers 90, Celtics 99

Another ugly game saw the Celtics shoot 6-for-27 at one point, but the hapless Lakers couldn’t take advantage of the pitiful offensive performance. Nelson scored 25 points to lead Boston, and Baylor and West both scored 26 points.

Game Seven: Celtics 108, Lakers 106

The Celtics jumped out ahead early as the Lakers struggled from the field. With an injured and foul-plagued Chamberlain sitting out, Los Angeles battled back to close to within a point, but Don Nelson hit a desperation jumper to put Boston ahead for good. For the first time ever, a road team won game seven of the NBA Finals. West led all scorers with 42 points and was named Finals MVP, the first time the award was handed out.

Aftermath

Bill Russell and Sam Jones both retired after the series, leaving the Celtics in a lurch. The team struggled the following season, but the arrival of Dave Cowens in 1970 provided the team with a new center to build around. Boston returned to playoff contention but wouldn’t reach the NBA Finals again until 1974.

Stunned at their game seven loss, the Lakers returned in 1970 with a championship in mind. Los Angeles continued to rule the Western Conference and made their way to the NBA Finals again — the third straight season. This time, the Lakers would face the New York Knicks in the championship series.

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1970s: Review

Teams in the Finals

The 1970s were an interesting decade for the NBA, as no team emerged as a dominant force. Eight different teams won championships, and the league competed for talent with the ABA. Teams to win single championships included the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trailblazers, Washington Bullets, and Seattle SuperSonics.

Two teams managed to win multiple championships. The New York Knicks emerged to win the first titles in team history, and the Boston Celtics added two trophies to an extremely decorated franchise resume.

As for the teams that came up short in the decade, the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns were the only two to make their way to the championship series and lose without also winning a title.

Teams on the Rise

After the NBA-ABA merger, four new teams entered the league, loaded with young talent. The San Antonio Spurs, led by George Gervin, and the Denver Nuggets, led by David Thompson, were two teams to emerge as contenders as the decade came to a close.

Other teams that made their mark on the league late in the 1970s included the Houston Rockets, led by Moses Malones, and the Phoenix Suns — especially after the latter made their way to the Western Conference Finals in 1979.

Teams that Missed Their Shot

The teams that came up regrettably short in the decade included the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and the Buffalo Braves. The first two made their way to conference championship series and lost, while the Braves featured an MVP winner in Bob McAdoo in 1975.

Players of Recognition

The most successful player of the decade by far was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, known earlier in his career as Lew Alcindor. His five MVP awards in the decade tied Bill Russell for the most in NBA history.

Players whose greatness appeared to fade in the 1970s include Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, John Havlicek, Willis Reed, Rick Barry, and Oscar Robertson.

Young players who appeared to be the future of the NBA include Houston’s Moses Malone, Denver’s David Thompson, Philadelphia’s Julius Erving, Portland’s Bill Walton, Seattle’s Dennis Johnson, and San Antonio’s George Gervin.

Other players of note in the 1970s include Atlanta’s Lou Hudson, Boston’s Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens, Chicago’s Bob Love and Nate Thurmond, Detroit’s Dave Bing and Bob Lanier, New Orleans’ Pete Maravich, Seattle’s Jack Sikma, and Washington’s Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe, and Elvin Hayes.

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1970: Knicks versus Lakers Round Three (New York’s First Title)

Background

After losing in the 1953 NBA Finals, the Knicks struggled throughout the ’60s before returning to playoff contention in 1969 thanks to the arrival of defensive stalwart Dave DeBusschere. The team lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the following season saw them win a franchise-best 60 games, including an 18-game winning streak — earning center Willis Reed the league MVP award. In the playoffs,the Knicks first defeated the Baltimore Bullets in a first-round that saw the home team win every game, and in the Eastern Conference Finals New York defeated the upstart Milwaukee Bucks in five games to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1953.

Known around the league as the lovable losers, the Lakers had lost six times in the NBA Finals in the ’60s when they started the 1970 season. Led by scoring champion Jerry West, they won 46 games in the regular season, good enough for the second seed in the west. In the playoffs, Los Angeles was forced to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to overcome the Phoenix Suns in the first round. In the Western Conference Finals the Lakers swept the Atlanta Hawks, clinching their third straight appearance in the NBA Finals and looking to win their first title since moving from Minneapolis, although they were considered the underdog to New York.

Lineups

The Knicks starting backcourt consisted of Walt “Clyde” Frazier at point guard next to Dick Barnett at shooting guard. In the frontcourt, Bill Bradley started at small forward alongside Dave DeBusschere at power forward and league MVP Willis Reed at center in the middle.

Off the bench, Mike Riordan served as the primary backup at guard, while Cazzie Russell and Dave Stallworth functioned as the backup forwards. Players to see few minutes in the NBA Finals include Nate Bowman, Bill Hosket, and John Warren.

For Los Angeles, Jerry West was the starting point guard in the backcourt next to Dick Garrett at shooting guard. In the frontcourt, Keith Erickson started at small forward next to power forward Elgin Baylor and four-time league MVP Wilt Chamberlain at center in the middle.

Off the bench, the Lakers utilized Johnny Egan as the primary backup at guard, and Happy Hairston served as the third big man on the roster. Players to see limited minutes in the NBA Finals include John Tresvant, Mel Counts, Rick Roberson, Mike Lynn, and Willie McCarter.

Game One: Lakers 112, Knicks 124

The Knicks built a large first half lead but had to rally in the fourth after letting the Lakers back into the game in the third quarter. Reed exploded for 37 points to go along with DeBusschere and Riordan’s 19 points apiece. West struggled from the field en route to 33 points, but Los Angeles fell behind 1-0.

Game Two: Lakers 105, Knicks 103

The Lakers evened the series after a back-and-forth affair. A jumper from Garrett proved to be the difference maker while West led Los Angeles with 34 points. Reed poured in 29 points to lead the Knicks, but the series was now tied at one game apiece as it headed west to Los Angeles.

Game Three: Knicks 111, Lakers 108 (OT)

The Knicks had to rally in the second half after falling behind early. With three seconds left, DeBusschere hit a shot to give New York a two point lead. As time expired, West hit an impossible 60-foot shot to force overtime, where the Knicks prevailed. Reed erupted again with 38 points to lead New York to a 2-1 series lead.

Game Four: Knicks 115, Lakers 121 (OT)

For the second straight game overtime was needed to determine a winner. The Lakers avoided a dreaded 3-1 series lead behind 67 points combined between West and Baylor. Reed scored a relatively tame 23 points as Los Angeles tied the series again.

Game Five: Lakers 100, Knicks 107

The Lakers again led early, but New York’s defense was the catalyst in the second half, forcing 30 turnovers. Willis Reed left due to injury in the first quarter, but a balanced scoring effort saw six different Knicks score in double figures. Baylor, Chamberlain, and West combined for 63 points, but Los Angeles trailed again 3-2.

Game Six: Knicks 113, Lakers 135

Los Angeles tied the series up again after a gargantuan 45 points from Chamberlain and 33 points from West. The Lakers were able to build a 20-point lead after the first quarter and cruised to the home victory. Without Reed, the Knicks were unable to withstand Wilt’s onslaught, and the series turned back to New York for a decisive game seven.

Game Seven: Lakers 99, Knicks 113

Despite playing injured, Willis Reed hit his first two shots from the field, igniting the Madison Square Garden crowd. The Knicks demolished the Lakers in the critical game seven, building a 27-point lead by halftime and cruising to their first championship. Reed only scored four points but proved to be inspirational for playing injured, and Frazier played a great game with 36 points and 19 assists.

Aftermath

For his dominant play early in the series, Willis Reed was named Finals MVP. The Knicks were upset by the Baltimore Bullets in 1971, ending their dreams of a repeat championship, but the team would return to the NBA Finals in 1972, their second appearance in the championship series in three years.

The Lakers were devastated again after losing a seven-game championship series for the second year in a row. In 1971, the team would lose to young Lew Alcindor and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Western Conference Finals, but Los Angeles would reach the NBA Finals again a year later in 1972 after winning 69 regular season games.

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1971: Bucks versus Bullets (Alcindor’s Arrival)

Background

The Bucks initially struggled after joining the league in 1968, but a coin flip awarded them the opportunity to draft franchise center Lew Alcindor, immediately making the team contenders. After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1970, Milwaukee traded for former MVP Oscar Robertson, and the team stormed through the next season with 66 wins, including a 20-game winning streak. In the playoffs (now as part of the west), the Bucks easily defeated the San Francisco Warriors in five games to reach the Western Conference Finals. Facing the reigning conference champion Lakers, Milwaukee dispatched Los Angeles in five games to clinch their first NBA Finals birth in franchise history.

After struggling in their early years, the Baltimore Bullets drafted Wes Unseld in 1968, spurring a 36 win turnaround that earned the young center the both the league MVP and Rookie of the Year awards. In 1971, the team won 42 games in the regular season and entered the playoffs as the number two seed. In the first round, the Bullets won three straight after dropping the opener to the Philadelphia 76ers but needed seven games to close out the series. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Baltimore fell behind 2-0 against the New York Knicks but won three straight to take a 3-2 lead. After a game six loss, the Bullets won a close game seven thanks to a late basket by Gus Johnson, sending Baltimore to their first NBA Finals.

Lineups

Milwaukee’s frontcourt consisted of former league MVP Oscar Robertson at point guard alongside shooting guard Jon McGlocklin. In the frontcourt, Bob Dandridge was the starting small forward next to power forward Greg Smith and towering 7’2″ center Lew Alcindor.

The Bucks utilized a very short bench, with Lucius Allen providing minutes as the third guard on the roster, and Bob Boozer served as a third big man in the frontcourt. Players to see few minutes in the NBA Finals include McCoy McLemore, Jeff Webb, Dick Cunningham, Bob Greacen, and Marv Winkler.

For the Bullets, Earl Monroe started in the backcourt at point guard with Kevin Loughery at shooting guard. The frontcourt was made up of Jack Marin at small forward alongside high-flyer Gus Johnson at power forward, and Wes Unseld served as the starting center in the middle.

Baltimore also used a short bench, as Fred Carter served as the primary backup at guard, and John Tresvant provided depth in the frontcourt as a third forward. Players to see few minutes include Gary Zeller, Dorie Murrey, and George Johnson.

Game One: Bullets 88, Bucks 98

Milwaukee led wire-to-wire as Alcindor tallied 31 points and 17 rebounds despite playing with foul trouble. Robertson chipped in 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in the opening win of the series. Monroe and the rest of the Bullets struggled from the field as they fell to the favored Bucks in game one.

Game Two: Bucks 102, Bullets 83

The Bucks again dominated the Bullets en route to a 19-point victory, thanks to an overwhelming third quarter. Alcindor was a monster inside with 27 points and 24 rebounds, complemented by Robertson’s second straight game of 22 points. Baltimore now faced a 2-0 deficit as they again struggled from the field.

Game Three: Bullets 99, Bucks 107

Marin, Unseld, and Loughery combined for 60 points, but they were outpaced by Alcindor, Dandridge, and Robertson’s 72 as the Bucks used the inner quarters to build a commanding 3-0 series lead.

Game Four: Bucks 118, Bullets 106

The Bucks led wire-to-wire again, and Milwaukee’s “Big Three” combined for 78 points en route to the second sweep in NBA Finals history. The Bullets were simply over-matched in the series, even though Unseld delivered a triple-double and Carter exploded for 28 points in the finale.

Aftermath

As the star of the team, Lew Alcindor was named Finals MVP for the champion Bucks. The following season they would again reach the Western Conference Finals, only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers. Two seasons later, however, Milwaukee would again claim a conference title and make it to their second NBA Finals in four years.

Coming off their disappointing sweep in the 1971 NBA Finals, the Bullets made a major trade by sending Earl Monroe to the New York Knicks in exchange for Mike Riordan and roster pieces. The team wouldn’t make it back to the championship series, however, until the 1975 season — a four-year drought.

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1972: Lakers versus Knicks Round Four (L.A.’s Sensational Streak)

Background

With the aging Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor, the 1972 Lakers were expected to be a rebuilding team. After a 6-3 start, Baylor retired, but the team embarked on a 33-game winning streak that remains the longest in NBA history. The team ran away with the best record in the league at 69-13. In the playoffs, the Lakers easily swept the Chicago Bulls in the first round to reach the Western Conference Finals. Facing the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles dropped the opener but won a close game two to tie the series. The Lakers then won three of the next four games to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth time in the last five years — still looking to win their first title since moving to L.A.

After winning the championship in 1970, the Knicks were shocked in the playoffs in 1971 by the Baltimore Bullets, ending their hopes of back-to-back titles. The team traded for flashy guard Earl Monroe early in the 1972 season, and New York won 48 games in the regular season, good enough for second in the Atlantic Division. In the playoffs, the Knicks fell behind the Bullets 2-1 before winning three straight to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Looking to earn their way back to the NBA Finals, New York easily dispatched the Boston Celtics in five games to reach the championship series for the second time in three years.

Lineups

The Lakers started a sharp-shooting backcourt of Jerry West at point guard and Gail Goodrich at shooting guard. The frontcourt consisted of Jim McMillian at small forward, next to Happy Hairston at power forward, and four-time league MVP Wilt Chamberlain played the role of center.

Pat Riley served as the first guard off a short bench, and Leroy Ellis filled in as a third big man on the roster. Players to see little time in the NBA Finals included Flynn Robinson, John Trapp, and Jim Cleamons.

The Knicks starting backcourt was comprised of Walt Frazier at point guard next to Earl Monroe at shooting guard. In the frontcourt, Bill Bradley played small forward next to power forward Dave DeBusschere, and Jerry Lucas played center in place of the injured Willis Reed.

Off the bench, Dean Meminger served as the first guard, and Dick Barnett saw time as a fourth backcourt player. Phil Jackson played the role of third big man on the roster, and players to rarely see time included Eddie Mast, Eddie Miles, Luther Rackley, and Charlie Paulk.

Game One: Knicks 114, Lakers 92

The Knicks came out hot, making 16 of their first 20 shots, and they coasted to an easy game one victory that came as a shocker against the favored Lakers. Bradley and Lucas combined for 55 points, and Frazier delivered a triple-double. Los Angeles struggled from the field as they fell behind 1-0.

Game Two: Knicks 92, Lakers 106

Los Angeles used a big third quarter to pull away in what was an early close game. Goodrich tallied 31 points, Chamberlain had 23 points and 24 rebounds, and West chipped in a double-double of his own. Frazier was the high-scoring Knick with 21 points, but the series was now tied headed back to New York.

Game Three: Lakers 107, Knicks 96

New York led early after the first quarter, but the Lakers defense cracked down on the Knicks and allowed Los Angeles to claim the lead as they coasted in the fourth quarter. Chamberlain, West, and Goodrich combined for 72 points as the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead, offsetting Frazier and Lucas’ combined 48.

Game Four: Lakers 116, Knicks 111 (OT)

The pivotal game four went to overtime after Frazier tipped in a basket with three seconds left in the fourth. The Lakers prevailed in the extra period, establishing a commanding 3-1 series lead. West scored 28 points to lead all scorers, and Goodrich had 27 of his own. Bradley, Lucas, and Frazier combined for 75 points, but the Knicks now faced elimination with the series headed back to Los Angeles.

Game Five: Knicks 100, Lakers 114

The Knicks responded to an early charge by the Lakers, and the first three quarters saw many lead changes before Los Angeles seized control in the second half. Four Lakers scored at least 20 points as the team clinched their first championship since moving from Minneapolis. Frazier was magnificent but his 31 points came in a losing effort for New York.

Aftermath

For his dominating play inside, Wilt Chamberlain was named Finals MVP. The Lakers returned a year later looking to repeat as champions, and they stormed through the west with 60 wins. After playoff wins against the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors, they found themselves in the NBA Finals for a second straight year.

Willis Reed returned from injury in 1973, and the Knicks won 57 games in the regular season, good enough for second in the east. New York easily defeated the Baltimore Bullets in the first round of the playoffs before outlasting the 68-win Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up an NBA Finals rematch with the Lakers.

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1973: Knicks versus Lakers Round Five (Wilt’s Last Season)

Background

The Knicks were shorthanded when they lost the 1972 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, and they returned a year later with vengeance in mind. Though the team reeled off 57 regular season wins, they still only finished in second as the Boston Celtics dominated the league en route to 68 wins. In the playoffs, the Knicks easily dispatched the Baltimore Bullets in five games to set up an Eastern Conference Finals match-up with the Celtics. Boston won game one by 26 points, but New York won the next three to grab a commanding 3-1 series lead. After two Celtics victories, the Knicks were forced to win game seven at the Boston Garden to advance to their third NBA Finals in four years.

Coming off their championship in 1972 — their first since moving to Los Angeles — the Lakers were looking to win back-to-back titles. In 1973 they won 60 games in the regular season, a tie with Milwaukee for the best in the west. By virtue of a tiebreaker, the Bucks earned the number one seed, and the Lakers had to withstand the Chicago Bulls in a seven-game first round series. In the Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles faced the Golden State Warriors, fresh off of an upset over the Bucks. the Lakers easily beat the Warriors in five games to advance to the 1973 NBA Finals, their fifth appearance in six seasons.

Lineups

The Knicks starting backcourt was comprised of Walt “Clyde” Frazier at point guard alongside Earl “The Pearl” Monroe at shooting guard. In the frontcourt, New York employed Bill Bradley at small forward next to Dave DeBusschere at power forward and former MVP Willis Reed at center.

Off the bench, Dean Meminger served as the Knicks’ primary backup at guard, and Phil Jackson and Jerry Lucas played the role of backup big men, spelling DeBusschere and Reed. Dick Barnett and John Gianelli rarely played in the NBA Finals.

Los Angeles utilized a backcourt of Jerry West at point guard next to Gail Goodrich at shooting guard. Jim McMillian played small forward in the frontcourt alongside Bill Bridges at power forward and reigning Finals MVP and four-time regular season MVP Wilt Chamberlain at center.

For the Lakers, Keith Erickson played the role of primary backup at guard, while Mel Counts provided depth in the frontcourt as a third big man. Happy Hairston and Pat Riley played little in the NBA Finals.

Game One: Lakers 115, Knicks 112

The Lakers jumped out early and led by ten at the half, and they built their lead up to 20 late in the third before Jerry West picked up his fifth foul and had to go to the bench. The Knicks closed the gap in the final period to within three, but Los Angeles withstood the charge and won the opener by a trey. Goodrich, McMillian, and West combined for 81 points to counter New York’s balanced scoring.

Game Two: Lakers 95, Knicks 99

The Knicks led wire-to-wire in game two, but they were never quite able to extend their lead. Bradley led the team in scoring with 26 points, supported by Frazier’s 20 and Monroe’s 14. West poured in 32 points of his own but had little support as McMillian and Goodrich both struggled from the field, and the Knicks tied up the series at 1-1.

Game Three: Knicks 87, Lakers 83

The Lakers led early before the Knicks stole the lead in the third with a 15-2 run. Los Angeles held tight and closed to within a basket late in the game, but they would not score again. Reed, Monroe, and Frazier combined to score 57 points, and the Lakers struggled from the field in game three as New York now held a 2-1 series lead and took back homecourt advantage.

Game Four: Knicks 103, Lakers 98

The Knicks built an early lead but struggled to put the Lakers away in a pivotal game four match-up. Poor offensive production allowed Los Angeles back in the game late, but the Lakers could not tie the game despite closing to within two. DeBusschere erupted for 33 points to lead New York and offset West and Goodrich’s combined 46.

Game Five: Lakers 93, Knicks 102

A back-and-forth affair saw the Knicks take the early lead, only for the Lakers to respond and claim the lead at the half. In the third, the Knicks poured in 32 points to re-establish their lead, and they fended off a final charge in the fourth to clinch their second championship in franchise history. Four players scored at least 18 points for New York. Chamberlain tallied 23 points and 21 rebounds in the final game of his career.

Aftermath

For his consistent play in the series, Willis Reed was named Finals MVP. The old Knicks team would fade in the coming years, however, and it would be 12 years before they found a new franchise center in 1985 with Patrick Ewing, although it wouldn’t be until 1994 that New York appeared in the NBA Finals again.

With Chamberlain’s departure, the Lakers had a gaping hole at center. They traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975, but Los Angeles repeatedly came up short in the playoffs until they drafted Earvin “Magic” Johnson in 1979. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals in Johnson’s rookie season of 1980.

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1974: Celtics versus Bucks (The Big O’s Farewell)

Background

The Celtics briefly struggled after Bill Russell retired in 1969, missing the playoffs in 1970 and 1971. In 1973, they reeled off a team-record 68 wins behind league MVP Dave Cowens, but they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New York Knicks after All-Star John Havlicek was lost to a shoulder injury. In 1974, the team returned the bulk of their lineup and dominated the east to the tune of 56 wins. In the playoffs, Boston traded wins with the Buffalo Braves before narrowly winning game six by a single basket to advance to the conference finals against the defending champion Knicks. The Celtics convincingly won the series in five games to advance to their first NBA Finals since the days of Russell.

After their dominating 1971 championship season, the Bucks looked to repeat in the following years. Their repeat bid fell short in 1972 at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, and in 1973 they were shocked in the conference semifinals by the Golden State Warriors. In 1974, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee to a league-best 59 wins, earning his third MVP award in four years. In the playoffs, the Bucks beat a Lakers team that was missing the retired Wilt Chamberlain and an injured Jerry West in five games. In the Western Conference Finals, Milwaukee easily swept the Chicago Bulls to reach their second NBA Finals in franchise history.

Lineups

The Celtics starting backcourt was comprised of All-Star point guard Jo Jo White alongside shooting guard Don Chaney. In the frontcourt, Boston started veteran and former sixth-man John Havlicek at small forward next to power forward Don Nelson and fellow All-Star center Dave Cowens.

Off the bench, Boston used Paul Westphal as the primary backup at guard and Paul Silas served as the first forward off the bench. Hank Finkel spelled Cowens at center, and Phil Hankinson, Art Williams, and Steve Kuberski sparingly played throughout the NBA Finals series.

The Bucks starting backcourt consisted of former MVP Oscar Robertson at point guard. Ron Williams initially started at shooting guard — replacing injured Lucius Allen — but lost his spot to Mickey Davis in the Finals. Milwaukee’s frontcourt was made up of Bob Dandridge at small forward, Cornell Warner at power forward, and three-time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center.

Milwaukee fielded a very short bench, as Jon McGlocklin served as the first man off the bench at guard, and Curtis Perry spelled the forwards. Players to play sparingly in the NBA Finals included Russ Lee, Terry Driscoll, and Dick Garrett.

Game One: Bucks 83, Celtics 98

Kareem outplayed his counterpart Cowens in his individual match-up, but the Celtics team play proved to be the Bucks’ undoing as they answered every Milwaukee comeback attempt with a run of their own. The MVP finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks, but his supporting cast was largely absent as Robertson only contributed 6 points of his own, and Dandridge only made 6 of 17 shots from the field. Havlicek led the Celtics with 26 points, Cowens chipped in a double-double, and Chaney and White combined for 34 points as Boston stole homecourt advantage in the series.

Game Two: Bucks 105, Celtics 96 (OT)

The Bucks responded well in game two, with Kareem again outplaying Cowens to the tune of 36 points to 17. The Celtics center had a shot blocked that would have won the game in regulation, and Milwaukee prevailed in overtime. The Bucks’ supporting cast stepped up as Dandridge scored 25 points, and Robertson had a near triple-double of 10/7/9. White led Boston with 25 points, but the series was now tied headed back east.

Game Three: Celtics 95, Bucks 83

Back at home, Boston ramped up their pressure and forced the Bucks into 27 turnovers as they cruised to their second win of the series behind Cowens and Havlicek’s combined 58 points. Kareem turned in a disappointing 26 points, and no other Milwaukee player scored more than 16. For the second time in the series, the Bucks trailed and faced a must-win in game four.

Game Four: Celtics 89, Bucks 97

Milwaukee coach Larry Costello changed up the starting lineup by inserting Mickey Davis at shooting guard, a move that paid off as Davis scored 15 points. Without the Celtics’ defensive pressure, Robertson was able to initiate the offense easily, and Kareem scored 34 points to go along with Dandridge’s 21. Havlicek erupted for 33 points, but the Bucks had now tied up the series as it headed back to Milwaukee for game five.

Game Five: Bucks 87, Celtics 96

The Bucks hung close in the first half, but the Celtics pulled away in the second behind Havlicek and Cowen’s combined 56 points. Kareem’s 37 points fell by the wayside as Milwaukee shot poorly as a whole and lost their second home game of the series. The Bucks now trailed the series 3-2 and faced elimination back in Boston for game six.

Game Six: Celtics 101, Bucks 102 (2OT)

A heavyweight bout saw the Celtics looking to clinch the championship at home. The teams hung close and traded baskets in the fourth quarter and overtime. Boston’s captain, John Havlicek, provided some unbelievable buckets down the stretch in the second overtime, but Kareem drained a sky-hook with the clock winding down to give the Bucks the win and send the series back to Milwaukee for game seven. Havlicek finished with a game-high 36, and Kareem scored 34 of his own as the series was now tied 3-3.

Game Seven: Bucks 87, Celtics 102

The Celtics built an early lead thanks to clutch outside shooting from Cowens. The Bucks made a late charge to close to within three points in the first minute of the fourth quarter, but Boston had another answer with an 8-0 run. A second run late in the fourth allowed the Celtics to put the game out of reach and clinch the championship. Cowens finished with 28 points, and Havlicek, White, and Silas combined for 56. Kareem tallied 26 points and 13 rebounds, and Robertson made only two shots in what would be the final game of his career.

Aftermath

For his stellar play throughout the series, John Havlicek was named Finals MVP. Looking to repeat in 1975 as champions, the Celtics won their division with 60 wins. They were upset in the conference finals, however, by the Washington Bullets, but the team returned to the NBA Finals a year later in 1976.

The Bucks struggled in 1975 after Robertson retired, and Kareem eventually demanded a trade to a major market team. Milwaukee sent their franchise center to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the team would wallow in mediocrity before returning to the conference finals in 1983. As of 2016, however, the team has yet to return to the NBA Finals.

 

 

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