NBA's Greatest Game
Of the thousands of nail-biting, artistic, dramatic, historic, bizarre
and plain wonderful games played throughout the history of the NBA, we
have chosen Game Five of the 1976 NBA Finals between the
Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns as the Greatest Game in league annals.
NBA season began with the New York Nets and Denver Nuggets, the American
Basketball Association's two strongest teams, applying for admission to
the NBA. It was a clear signal that the NBA would only become more
powerful and the ABA would soon become a footnote to pro basketball
bombshell trade took place that season, as Milwaukee sent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
to the Lakers in return for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman
and Dave Meyers.
averaged 27.7 points and a league-leading 16.9 rebounds per game. He won
another Most Valuable Player award, but his Lakers went 40-42 and missed
Boston's Celtics did not miss the playoffs - in those years they never
did. With shooting guard Charlie Scott, acquired from Phoenix for Paul
Westphal, as part of their cast, the Celtics won 54 games to top the
competition in the NBA Finals was the Phoenix Suns. It was a match up
between a tradition-steeped franchise and one that was
not-quite-prime-time, the Suns (less than a decade old).
went through Buffalo and Cleveland to reach the finals. Upstart Phoenix,
with Rookie of the Year Alvan Adams, beat Seattle and defeated
heavily-favored Golden State in seven games to reach the finals.
may have been big-time underdogs, but the Suns gave the heavily favored
Celtics all they could handle. The teams split the first four games of the
stage was set for a Friday night fifth game at Boston Garden on June 4,
was a game that went through three overtimes - and produced all kinds of
twists and turns, mistaken intentions, unlikely heroes, blown
opportunities and likely and unlikely heroes.
the end of the first overtime, there was a timeout that was not granted to
Boston's Paul Silas. That was a lucky break for Boston for had it been
granted it would have resulted in a technical foul and given the Suns a
chance to win the game. For some strange reason, referee Richie Powers
chose to ignore the signal of Silas and the teams played on.
the second overtime, Phoenix grabbed a one-point lead with four seconds
left. A victory for the Suns seemed a sure thing. But in the old Boston
Garden, there were never sure things for the opposition.
John Havlicek raced the length of the floor and sank a miraculous, running
15-foot bank shot. Pandemonium prevailed as hundreds of Celtics fans came
pouring out onto the court. When order was finally restored, the officials
put one second back on the clock; Phoenix was prepared to get the ball.
another of the crazy twists and turns - the Suns' Paul Westphal asked for,
and received, a timeout he knew his team was not entitled to. It was good
strategy, though. The Celtics were given a technical foul, whereupon Jo Jo
White hit the free throw. The Celtic lead was moved up to two points, but
the technical foul enabled the Suns to make the inbounds pass from
Gar Heard caught the pass to the right of the free-throw line, turned and
hit a 20-foot jumper right at the buzzer. The noisy Garden faithful was
stunned into silence for the moment.
game moved into a third overtime.
was the theme - for players as well as spectators. Key players on both
teams had fouled out. But seldom-used reserve Glenn McDonald rose to the
occasion for the Celtics. He scored six points in the final overtime as
Boston eked out a 128-126 victory to take a three games-to-two series
than two days later and on the home court of Phoenix, the Celtics beat the
Suns, 87-80, to wrap up their 13th NBA championship and second title in
NBA Finals is best remembered for the triple overtime game. Former Hall of
Fame player Rick Barry, who served as broadcaster for the game, called it
"the most exciting basketball game I've ever seen."
We call it the greatest game in NBA history.
# # #
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Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
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