The NBA Finals have given us basketball fans many incredible performances. For example, Game 1 in this year's Finals gave us one heck of a finish.
The Golden State Warriors were cruising past the Boston Celtics, up 15 late in the third quarter. Then, the Celtics went on a tear; they outscored the Warriors 40-16 in the fourth to win 120-108.
This was an incredible finish, but it's not the best. If you look back at NBA Finals history, you could pick plenty of moments, like Jordan's game-winner to sink the Jazz or Magic's game-winning baby hook shot to beat Bird's Celtics.
The most incredible Finals finish isn't in any of these games. This title belongs to the Game 5 finish of the 1976 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns.
NBA Finals Game 5: Boston Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns
The Boston Celtics dominated the 1960s, led by the great Bill Russell. After Russell retired in 1969, the Celtics' dominance appeared to be over.
Then, the Celtics' pride rose again to win the 1974 NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. In 1976, the Celtics found themselves back in the Finals, this time against the Phoenix Suns.
The Celtics were led by John Havlicek, and the Suns were led by Paul Westphal. After the first four games, the series was tied at 2-2. This set up the all-important Game 5 in Boston.
The Celtics jumped all over the Suns at the beginning of the game, taking a 36-18 lead after the first quarter. The more the game went on, the closer the Suns would get.
Then with 22 seconds remaining, Celtics fans were biting their nails as the Suns took their first lead of the game at 95-94. Havlicek would then get fouled with 19 seconds left and a chance to give the Celtics the lead at the line.
This is where things start to get crazy. Havlicek made the first free throw to tie the game, but he missed the second attempt. The miss somehow ended back in Havlicek's hands, and now the Celtics had a chance to win the game.
Havlicek attempted a game-winning jump shot, but he missed. The Suns grabbed the rebound and called a timeout immediately, with five seconds remaining.
The problem for the Suns was the fact the clock ran off two extra seconds after the timeout was called, and the referees would not change it. So, the Suns now had three seconds remaining to win the game.
The ball was thrown in by the Suns' power forward, Gar Heard, but was stolen by the Celtics and Game 5 saw overtime. The thing was, the game shouldn't have been over, not yet.
In fact, the Suns should have been shooting a free throw with a chance to win the game. Why? After the Celtics stole the ball, the Celtics' power forward, Paul Silas, tried to call a quick timeout, and he did so before the clock expired.
The referee, Richie Powers, seemed to have been looking at Silas, but he didn't grant the call. Why is this important? The Celtics were out of timeouts, meaning Silas' attempt at calling a timeout would have led to a technical foul, resulting in the Suns getting a free throw to win the game.
The timeout wasn't granted, and Game 5 saw overtime. But as you will see, the dramatics of the game were far from over.
The next controversial moment in the game occurred, with three seconds remaining at the end of overtime. The game was tied at 101-101, and the Celtics had possession.
Havlicek took the inbound pass and dribbled toward the right. The game clock didn't start until after Havlicek stopped dribbling and gave his defender a pump-fake.
Luckily for the Suns, Havlicek missed the shot, and the game headed to a second overtime. The mishap of the clock was yet another strange situation at the end of this game.
The game wasn't over, and the wild finish was yet to come.
At the end of the second overtime, with 19 seconds remaining, the Celtics led 109-106.
The Suns had the ball, and with 15 seconds left, Dick Van Arsdale sank a jumper to cut the lead to 109-108. Then, Westphal stole the Celtics inbounds pass and threw the ball to Curtis Perry.
Perry missed the shot, but the Suns grabbed the rebound, and the ball ended up in Perry's hands again, and this time he sank the jumper. The Suns now led 110-109 with 5 seconds left in the game.
The Celtics wouldn't be done. Havlicek took the inbound pass and drove toward the hoop. Havlicek banked in a jump shot to give the Celtics a 111-110 lead with what appears to be two seconds remaining in the game.
The problems with the clock earlier in the game returned. The ball dropped through the net with two seconds left in the game, yet the clock continued to run, and it ran out, showing 00 across the scoreboard.
The Boston crowd roared with excitement. The fans stormed the court to celebrate the win. The Celtics players even ran back to their locker rooms, ready to celebrate the victory.
The problem for the Celtics was the referees noticed the error of the clock, and were discussing their next move. This is where things go to the extreme.
A fan attacked referee Richie Powers on the court. The police quickly rushed to the court and pulled the fan off of Powers.
Even after the fight that was ended by the police, the Celtics faithful were still on the court. Slowly, the fans were escorted off the court, and the Celtics players returned from their locker room.
Order was restored, and the Suns had the ball. The referees actually put one second on the clock instead of the correct time of two seconds left.
The Suns' chances were slim, especially since they had to inbound the ball from under the Celtics basket. This meant they'd have to go the full length of the court to score.
The Suns were out of timeouts, so they couldn't advance the ball to the half court line. So, the Suns performed a smart tacit by calling a timeout they didn't have, which this time, the referees called the appropriate technical foul.
Jo Jo White sank the technical free throw, which gave the Celtics a 112-110 lead with one second remaining. By calling a timeout they didn't have, the Suns were allowed to advance the ball to half court.
As the Suns were now drawing up their final play, Celtics fans were still on the floor, and they tried to interfere with the Suns' huddle.
Despite these distractions, the Suns' players were ready. Perry threw the ball into Gar Heard, who caught the ball, turned, and fired a jumper that beat the buzzer and sank through the net. The game was tied at 112-112, and there would be a third overtime!
The fans in Boston were stunned. They were lined up just out of bounds and were ready to storm back onto the court. Yet, they were denied this from a miracle shot from Gar Heard.
The Celtics regained their composure and took a 128-122 lead with 31 seconds remaining in the third overtime. Just as it looked like the game was over, and the Celtics would comfortably get the win, the Suns stormed back.
Paul Westphal would not let his team quit. He scored two quick baskets, which cut the lead to 128-126 in favor of Boston.
Westphal then nearly stole a pass as his fingers tipped the ball loose, but the Celtics regained the possession and successfully ran the clock out to win 128-126. The Celtics would wrap the series up in Game 6 with an 87-80 victory, which gave them their 13th franchise championship.
Game 5 has gone down in history as one of the longest NBA Finals games ever played. Former NBA great Rick Barry, who was an announcer on the game, called it “the most exciting basketball game I've ever seen.”
Barry wasn't lying about that. For fans who were in attendance and watched on TV, they indeed were lucky to have witnessed the greatest Finals game in real-time.
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