1976 NBA Finals

1976 NBA Finals
1976 NBA Finals
Team Coach Wins
Boston Celtics Tom Heinsohn 4
Phoenix Suns John MacLeod 2
Dates: May 23 - June 6
MVP: Jo Jo White
(Boston Celtics)
Television: CBS (U.S.)
Announcers: Brent Musburger, Mendy Rudolph, Sonny Hill, and Rick Barry
Radio network: WBZ-AM (Boston), KTAR (Phoenix)
Announcers: Johnny Most (Celtics), Al McCoy (Suns)
Game 1:
Game 2:
Game 3:
Game 4: Richie Powers, Manny Sokol
Game 5: Richie Powers, Don Murphy
Hall of Famers: Dave Cowens (1991)
John Havlicek (1984)
Pat Riley (2008, coach)
Tom Heinsohn (1986, player)
Eastern Finals: Celtics defeat Cavaliers, 4-2
Western Finals: Suns defeat Warriors, 4-3
 < 1975 NBA Finals 1977 > 

The 1976 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round for the 1975-76 NBA season.



The Phoenix Suns finished the season with 42 wins and 40 losses, but beat the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the playoffs and went on to play the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, giving the Celtics a tough battle before falling in six games.

The 1976 NBA Finals also marked the first time that NBA games of any kind were being played during the month of June.

Series summary

Game Date Home Team Score Road Team
Game 1 May 23 (Sun.) Boston 98-87 Phoenix
Game 2 May 27 (Thu.) Boston 105-90 Phoenix
Game 3 May 30 (Sun.) Phoenix 105-98 Boston
Game 4 June 2 (Wed.) Phoenix 109-107 (OT) Boston
Game 5 June 4 (Fri.) Boston 128-126 (3 OT) Phoenix
Game 6 June 6 (Sun.) Phoenix 80-87 Boston

Boston Celtics defeated Phoenix Suns, 4 games to 2

Game 1

The Suns looked weary and shell-shocked in this one, shooting only 38 percent from the field as Boston cruised to an easy 98-87 win in the Boston Garden.

Game 2

The Celtics posted another easy win at home, going on a 20-2 run in the third quarter that put the game out of reach.

Game 3

Phoenix held Boston scoreless for nearly five minutes in the second period as they went to a 16-point lead. Then, the Suns' Ricky Sobers and Boston's Kevin Stacom got into a fistfight, and both were ejected. Sobers was having a good game at that point, and Phoenix coach John MacLeod would later accuse the Celtics of having Stacom bait Sobers into the fight in order to get him out of the game.

The Suns extended the lead to 23 in the third, but Boston began to charge back and cut the lead to two with three minutes left. At that point, Suns rookie center Alvan Adams scored twice, passed off to Paul Westphal for another, and then tipped in a Westphal miss moments later.

That was enough to get Phoenix a 105-98 win. Adams finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds. Dave Cowens and Charlie Scott both fouled out for the Celtics, and the Celtics also were whistled for two technicals.

Game 4

In the first-ever NBA game played in June, referees Don Murphy and Manny Sokol whistled 21 fouls in the first 10 minutes. Celtics coach Tom Heinsohn became angry and claimed later that the affair was pure "high school." John Havlicek and Cowens put the blame on their team for 'committing stupid fouls'.

The game was close to the end, when Ricky Sobers hit a bank shot to put the Suns up by four with 90 seconds left. The Celtics cut it to two and had a chance to tie it, but lost 109-107 when Jo Jo White missed a jump shot late.

Game 5

June 4 Phoenix Suns 126, Boston Celtics 128 3OT  Boston Garden, Boston
Attendance: 15,320
Referees: Richie Powers, Don Murphy
Scoring by quarter: 18-36, 27-25, 27-16, 23-18, OT: 6-6, 11-11, 14-16
Pts: Sobers, Westphal 25 each
Rebs: Curtis Perry 15
Asts: Perry, Ricky Sobers 6 each
Pts: Jo Jo White 33
Rebs: Havlicek, Cowens 5 each
Asts: Jo Jo White 9

Game 5 was triple-overtime. With the series tied 2-2, Boston took a huge lead at Boston Garden but could not hold it. The game was enhanced by several controversies.

Two controversies involved each team's use of timeouts:

(a) With the score tied at 95-95, Boston's Paul Silas attempted to call a timeout near the end of regulation with the Celtics out of timeouts. Referee Richie Powers appeared to have seen Silas signal the timeout, but did not grant it.

(b) The Suns' Paul Westphal also called a timeout with his team out of them, as further explained below.

Another set of controversies involved the clock;

(a) Shortly after hitting the game-tying free-throw with 22 seconds left in regulation, John Havlicek missed the second and rebounded his own miss. He then took a pass from Jo Jo White, dribbled to the right and uncharacteristically attempted a jump shot with eight seconds left (rather than waiting until the final seconds). Westphal rebounded the ball for Phoenix with five seconds left, signaled for a timeout which the referee granted, but the clock was not stopped until three seconds were left.

(b) With three seconds left in the first overtime and the score 101-101, John Havlicek took an inbounds pass and dribbled to the right baseline before attempting a game-winning shot. The clock appeared not to start until Havlicek stopped dribbling and ball-faked before he released the shot.

(c) Havlicek hit what appeared to be the game-winning shot at the end of the second overtime, but his shot went through the basket with two seconds left and the clock should have been stopped, as discussed below.

The most notable portion of the game was the final 20 seconds of the second overtime. Boston led at that point 109-106 (with the three-point basket not yet in existence). Phoenix had possession of the ball. In an amazing and frantic sequence, the following transpired:

(a) The Suns' Dick Van Arsdale hit a short jumper from the corner, cutting the gap to 109-108,

(b) the Celtics inbounded the ball to John Havlicek, but the Suns' Paul Westphal came from seemingly out of nowhere to knock the ball out of Havlicek's hands. As his momentum was carrying him out of bounds, Westphal saved the ball to Van Arsdale, who passed it to Curtis Perry. Perry took an 18-footer from the left wing and missed.

(c) Havlicek went after the rebound on the Perry miss, but couldn't get a grip on it and ended up tapping the ball back to Perry on the left baseline.

(d) Perry then let fly from 15 feet (4.6 m) and made the shot to put the Suns ahead.

Phoenix suddenly led, 110-109, with just six seconds left, and the team looked poised to win their third straight game and grab a 3-to-2 edge in the series. John Havlicek (already of "Havlicek Stole the Ball" fame) responded with a drive and a leaning one-hander in traffic that put Boston in front 111-110 as the horn sounded. The fans then poured onto the court to celebrate Boston's apparent victory. The Celtics returned to their locker room. As CBS analyst Rick Barry loudly pointed out, the ball went through the hoop with two seconds left and the clock should have been stopped. The officials apparently agreed with Barry and ordered the Celtics back onto the floor. The game was not over.

During the ensuing pandemonium, a fan attacked referee Richie Powers and other fans turned over one of the scorer's tables. After clearing the court (the fan who attacked Powers was arrested) and getting the Celtics back on the floor, the officials put one second back on the clock. Still, Phoenix's chances seemed slim, as they had the ball under their own basket with a second left. Then Paul Westphal of the Suns signaled for a time out that the Suns did not have. Although this resulted in a technical foul being called on Westphal, the play was critical for Phoenix, because the rules at the time gave Phoenix the same advantage (save for the technical foul shot) that they would have had with timeouts remaining to use; namely, possession of the ball at half court. Boston's Jo Jo White made the technical free throw, increasing Boston's lead to 112-110.

During the timeout, fans were still on the Boston Garden floor, even disturbing the Suns' huddle by their bench as coach John MacLeod was drawing up a play for a possible tying basket. The Suns' players repeatedly had to shove the fans out of the way, and Phoenix general manager Jerry Colangelo even threatened to not bring his team back to the Boston Garden for Game 7 if security couldn't maintain control. When play resumed, Phoenix's Garfield Heard took the inbounds pass from Perry and made a buzzer-beating shot (a turn-around jumper at the top of the key) for the Suns that tied the score yet again, 112-112.

Boston eventually took a six-point lead, 128-122, late in the third overtime. Westphal scored the next four points for Phoenix, cutting the gap to 128-126, but could not get the ball again (with Westphal nearly stealing a pass near half court as the third overtime wound down).

Boston then won Game 6 and took their 13th championship. Jo Jo White was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.

Game 5 trivia

  • Dave Cowens, Charlie Scott, and Paul Silas all fouled out (were disqualified due to six personal fouls) for the Celtics, and Alvan Adams and Dennis Awtrey both fouled out for the Suns. Silas picked up his fifth foul late in the fourth quarter, but played the entire remainder, including all three overtime periods before fouling out late in the third.
  • The Suns had the lead in the game on only four occasions (twice in the second overtime) and never by more than 2 points. They led 95-94 late in the fourth, and 106-105 and 110-109 in the 2nd overtime. They also led in the third overtime by 114-112.
  • Glenn McDonald, a little-used Celtic reserve player, scored eight points in the game, all in overtime, including six in the 3rd overtime.
  • Finals MVP Jo Jo White led all scorers with 33 points.
  • Future Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley was a reserve on the Suns' bench, but never got in the game.

Game 6

After the tough Game 5 loss, the Suns were more defiant than ever heading back home to Phoenix. "We know we're going to beat them." Garfield Heard declared. "It's going to take seven now, but we know we're going to beat them. We showed we came to play."

The first half was a defensive struggle. Each team scored 20 points in the first quarter, then Boston scored 18 in the second while holding the Suns to 13. Keith Erickson, a key Suns' reserve, had attempted to play at the start of the second period, but reinjured his sprained ankle and never returned. After falling behind by 11, Phoenix caught up again in the third and took a 67-66 lead on a Ricky Sobers free throw with 7:25 left in the game.

But the Celtic heroes of old (Dave Cowens, John Havlicek) and new (Charlie Scott) took control from there. Havlicek hit two free throws; then Cowens stole the ball, drove, scored, drew the foul and made the foul shot for a three-point play. Cowens then scored two baskets and Havlicek another to put it away. Scott had three steals during the run and finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, ending a series-long 11-for-44 shooting slump.

During the run, Phoenix's only response was four free throws. The Celtics rode their surge to an 87-80 win and their 13th championship.

Jo Jo White scored 15 points, giving him 130 points in six games, and was named the series MVP. John Havlicek celebrated his eighth NBA title as a Celtic.

Television coverage

NOTE: Series had three straight off days between Sunday afternoon opener and Thursday night second game due to CBS-TV's concern with low ratings for professional basketball. The 1975-76 network television season (as well as May sweeps) ended after Wednesday, May 26 (with weekend afternoon games not factored into the prime-time ratings). Accordingly, CBS-TV allowed Game 1 to be played on Sunday afternoon, since the ratings would not count, but would not permit Game 2 to be played live in prime time unless the NBA waited until Thursday evening.

Game 3 started on Sunday, May 30 at 10:30 a.m. MST in order for CBS to televise the final round of the PGA Tour Memorial Tournament following the game. The move angered numerous clergy in the Phoenix area, who saw drastically reduced attendance at Sunday services. The game also happened to be on the same day as the Indianapolis 500, but live flag-to-flag coverage of the event by ABC Sports was still 10 years away.

CBS play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger, in a Fall 2009 interview with ESPN, said that he and color announcer Rick Barry were rooting for Phoenix to win Games 3, 4, and 6, although Barry's Golden State Warriors were eliminated by the Suns in the Western Conference Finals. Musburger said that this was because he and Barry were paid by the game. Since the Series was 2-0 Boston after the first two games, Musburger and Barry wanted the Suns to win the next two games to tie the series (likewise with Game 6). Boston fans, unaware of Musburger's and Barry's motivations, were upset with the announcing crew because of their apparent favoritism.


The Celtics would undergo another rebuilding period for the next three years, but not without some controversy. In 1978, then-Celtics owner Irv Levin sold the team to future Kentucky governor John Y. Brown. Brown clashed with Celtics general manager Red Auerbach on control of the franchise, and later sold the team to Harry Mangurian in 1979, after Auerbach considered taking a front office job with the New York Knicks. On court, the Celtics showed its age, losing in the second round to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1977, then enduring two straight losing seasons. John Havlicek retired after the 1977-78 season, and in the 1978 NBA Draft the Celtics selected Larry Bird, but he did not play until the 1979-80 season, after which the team won 61 games, a then-record 32-game turnaround from the previous season. The Celtics won their 14th NBA championship in 1981.

The Suns would not make the Finals again until 1993, in which Paul Westphal was the head coach. During the 16-year period the Suns would make the playoffs 12 times, advancing to the conference finals four times. John MacLeod's coaching tenure in Phoenix would last another 11 years.

Team rosters

See also

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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