In the storied history of the Boston Celtics, buried between the consistent dominance of the Russell era from 1957-69 and the opulent Bird/McHale/Parish epoch of the 1980's, lying mostly hidden under all the title banners are the frequently forgotten great Celtic teams of the 1970's.
Partly because those Boston squads were not flashy and won a relatively "meager" two league crowns, they have been relegated to the back pages of a hefty Celtic championship tome that recorded 16 banners over an unprecedented 30-year span from 1957-86.
Thus despite the fact that most other franchises would consider two crowns in three years, let alone during a decade, a major success and a golden era - the two crowns won by the 1970's Celtics come across as somehow underwhelming.
Taking on the personality of their quiet veteran superstar leader John Havlicek, the ironman bridge from the Russell era extending nearly all the way to the Bird epoch, the 1971-76 Celtics won consistently big in an understated, workmanlike fashion that does not lend itself easily to hype and rehashed heroics.
Yet from the 1971-72 season through 1975-76, the Celtics made it to five consecutive Eastern Conference finals, won it all in 1974 and 1976, and probably would have in 1973 if not for a key post-season injury to their leader, Havlicek.
Only the Bird Celtics of 1984-88, and the Pistons in a very weak East (and diluted NBA) from 2003-08 have made it to five straight eastern finals since Boston turned the trick from 1972-76.
Driven hard by former Celtic star turned coach in Tom Heinsohn, Boston averaged a league-best 58.8 wins per season over that five-year span. Furthermore, the Celts boasted the top record in the East each of those years, posting win totals of 56, 68, 56, 60 and 54 in succession.
Ironically, their title seasons came in the regular seasons where they won the least games: 56 in 1974 and 54 in 1976.
Even more ironic is that in the season the Celtics registered the best regular season record in the annals of the fabled franchise at 68-14 in 1972-73, Boston did NOT win it all.
The Celts lost to eventual champion New York 4-3 in the 1973 East finals, in part because Havlicek missed much of the series with a severely injured shooting shoulder after running blindly into a rugged Dave DeBusschere screen in game three.
Long-time announcer Heinsohn, the Hall of Fame forward who won eight rings as a player and two more as coach of Boston from 1969-78, has seen every Celtic team since the 1950's. He often called his smallish, fast-breaking 1970's Boston clubs "the quickest teams in Celtic history."
From 1971 to 1976, Heinsohn's speedy C's averaged 115.6, 112.7, 109, 106.5 and 106.2 points per game, ranking among the league leaders.
The Celtics of that era were led by 1973 league MVP Dave Cowens, arguably the fastest center in NBA history, probably the greatest runner and constant mover without the ball in league annals in swingman John Havlicek and speedy guard JoJo White.
That trio formed formed as good a center/forward/guard threesome as any in team history - and led Boston to perennial contender status with a breakneck, fast-breaking style.
Another thing that hurt the notoriety of the 1970's Celtics was that after Boston won 11 crowns in 13 years from 1957-69, fans were simply tired of the big Green dynasty. And just as Russell retired, a new and fascinating power was rising in New York, the media capital of the world, to supplant Boston.
After years of also-ran status, the resurgent Knicks went to six straight East finals from 1969-74 after acquiring DeBusschere, and they captured the imagination of the basketball world with their cerebral and crisp passing, outside shooting game, as well as tough team and individual defense.
Featuring such varied and interesting characters as the hard-nosed and skilled DeBusschere, the stylish Walt Frazier, Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley, strong southern gent Willis Reed, flashy Earl Monroe, hippie Phil Jackson, memory expert Jerry Lucas, coach Red Holzman and others, the club won the only two NBA titles in the history of the franchise.
The colorful and charismatic Knicks became the new darlings of the league, the print media and ABC, which televised NBA games nationally (often featuring the big-market, big-ratings Big Apple squad) through 1973. The Celtics were forgotten and left behind, and didn't even make the playoffs in 1970 and '71 as Auerbach rebuilt the team into a new power.
Meanwhile by thriving in the media capital of the world, the great and interesting Knicks teams inspired dozens of books and a tremendous following at home and even on the road (and importantly, on TV) for their selfless, captivating style of play.
As a result, more books have been written about the relatively meager two Knick banners than the 17 Boston titles."So many books, so few titles," sarcastically observed one Celtic great in Harvey Araton's book called "When the Garden Was Eden," a book chronicling the fabled Knicks of 1969-74.
Boston and New York, the only two remaining original members of the league never to have moved from their birth city, carried on the traditional Hub vs. Gotham rivalry made famous by the fierce Yankee/Red Sox rivalry, as well as by Rangers vs. Bruins enmity and more recently, the Patriots vs. the Jets and Giants.
From 1972-74, the two ancient NBA rivals met in three straight memorable East finals, with the league's beloved Knicks taking the first two and narrowly leading in games won 9-8.
The quality of basketball played between the rivals (featuring seven players on the 50 Greatest list) was pitched at a sublimely high level of intensity and quality, as well as hoops intellectuality, a peak that has rarely been mounted since.
Of course, had Havlicek not been hurt it's very likely that Boston would have won it all in 1973. The Celtics swept the Lakers convincingly, the Western winner, in all four meetings in 1972-73.
LA even publicly announced they preferred to face the aging Knicks, mostly because they were slower, especially at center with an old Wilt in his last season being outclassed by a young and speedy Cowens.
Redemption in '74
The seeds of the determined 1974 title run were planted in the acutely disappointing 1973 loss to the eventual champion rival Knicks.
After going 56-26 in 1973-74, Boston finally broke through and beat the defending champion Knicks in the East finals by a 4-1 count in the conference finals, ending the relatively short New York dynasty - and their two-year run of conference final playoff wins over the Celtics.
"If we were going to go out, at least we lost to a great team," said Frazier after the defending champions were eliminated by Boston. Hall of Fame frontcourt mainstays DeBusschere, Reed and Lucas retired after the series, and the New Yorkers were not a title contender again for 20 years.
But the Knick fever that enveloped the NBA in the early 1970's dwarfed the understated Celtics of that era. People were just tired of Boston winning so much over the previous 15 years and were ready to root for a new team to win.
After finally getting past the rival Knicks, the Celtics faced another tall task in 7-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks, who boasted the NBA's top record at 59-23 and thus had earned homecourt advantage.
Milwaukee had been a dominating 66-16 NBA champion in 1971, and just missed out on its fourth straight 60-win campaign by a single victory in 1974.
The stage was set for one of the best and most unpredictable championship series in NBA history, where five of the seven games were won by the road team.
The teams alternated victories as Boston won games one, three, and five, with Milwaukee responding by taking games taking two, four and six.
The Celtics jumped on the Bucks immediately in the series opener with a 35-19 first quarter, taking the hosts and their crowd out of the contest. Milwaukee clawed back within 69-61 after three periods, but Boston pulled away for a 98-83 victory.
Havlicek led a balanced Boston offense with 26 points. Cowens and White each netted 19 points while Don Chaney added 15. Jabbar topped all scorers with 35 points, but no other Buck scored more than 12. Oscar Robertson was limited to a mere six points.
The Celtics actually had a golden opportunity to go ahead 2-0 after a big 24-13 fourth quarter rally tied it 90-90. But Havlicek's line-drive runner at the buzzer of regulation missed, sending the game to overtime.
In OT, the Bucks ran away for a 105-96 victory as shooting-challenged forward Cornell Warner threw down two dunks. Jabbar scored 36 points and grabbed 15 boards, while White led Boston with 25 points.
In game three at Boston, the Celtics again took control with a big first period outburst (32-13) en route to a 95-83 victory.Cowens and Havlicek bounced back from subpar games to post 30 and 28 points, respectively. Jabbar netted 26 but Robertson tallied only a dozen as he averaged just 9.3 ppg over the first three contests.
The Bucks evened it up 2-2 with a 97-89 win at the Garden in game four. Jabbar recorded 34 points and 14 rebounds while Bob Dandridge added 21 points for Milwaukee.
Havlicek fired in 33 points and Cowens contributed 24, but White was held to 10 as the only other Celtic in double figures.
Heading back to Milwaukee, the trend of alternating victories held as Boston won a defensive struggle, 96-87. Cowens and Havlicek each tallied 28 markers to offset 37 by Jabbar and 23 from Robertson.
Boston had a chance to clinch its 12th title at home in game six, which turned out to be one of the greatest NBA Finals contests ever.
The best and memorable game of the Finals, true to the no-respect theme of the 1970's Celtics, was that game six double overtime thriller loss at home to Milwaukee when Boston was just seconds away from clinching their first world crown since 1969.
Milwaukee, playing with desperation and the knowledge they could win at the Garden, built a 47-40 halftime lead. But Boston came storming back to tie it 86-86 at the end of regulation.
Each team scored just four points in the tense first OT, and the signature play of the epic contest occurred late when Cowens, hedging out aggressively as usual on a screen vs. Robertson, poked the ball away from Oscar.
Stumbling initially from trying too hard to run after the ball out of the blocks, the determined 6-8.5 center still out-sprinted the 6-5 guard 40 feet for the ball, then dove headlong to grab the rolling sphere as an amazed Oscar trailed the redhead.
A nearly 10-foot streak of sweat followed Cowens across the parquet floor, and even though he did not quite possess the ball as he slid to the sideline, the 24-second shot clock expired to give Boston the ball.
This incredible play is still frequently shown on NBA highlights as an example of true grit and hustle in the biggest of moments. However, Dave then fouled out jostling with Jabbar for position and was replaced by reserve center Hank Finkel, a big drop-off in talent.
The call was dubious but Buck forward Dandridge later recalled that "we thought it was a good call...we felt Dave had been getting away with murder."
In the epic second OT Havlicek tossed in a championship-series record nine points as the teams traded the lead on five consecutive possessions.
Havlicek swished two rafter-scraping right baseline rainbows over a flailing 7-2 Jabbar to highlight the mano a mano battle.
After a Robertson drive into the lane put Milwaukee ahead by a point, a clutch Chaney steal led to a Celtic fast break.
Hondo initially pulled up near the foul line and shot a jumper over the retreating Jabbar. But it was short. However, the rebound bounced right back to Havlicek, who caught it in midair and banked in a leaning lane follow shot to give Boston a 101-100 lead with just seconds left.
"My first shot was so bad that it surprised Kareem and bounced right back to me, and I made the second," said Havlicek, in typically self-effacing fashion. His 11-foot rebound shot over Jabbar again seemed to give Boston a championship-clinching win and a chance for the fans to rush the parquet floor for the first time since 1968.
But after a timeout to advance the ball to halfcourt, Milwaukee had one last chance. Coach Larry Costello drew up a play for sharpshooting big guard Jon McGlocklin.
But the Robertson in-bounds pass came into Jabbar, who was going to win or lose it. Kareem faked a pass to a back-cutting Mickey Davis, then drove to the right baseline before tossing in a clutch long running hook over backup Finkel to even the series, 3-3.
It was a crushing blow, and only a team hardened by tough battles with the likes of the Knicks and the burden of tradition were likely to be overcome it, especially on the road.
Of course, the veteran calm and leadership of Havlicek, who had won six NBA titles already, helped too.
Going back to Milwaukee for a seventh game showdown in the final game of the great Robertson's career, the Celtic braintrust gambled and changed their defensive strategy.
Red Auerbach and Tom Heinsohn decided to front Jabbar and give Cowens a lot of help for the first time all series, since Dave was giving up nearly six inches in height and several more in reach to Kareem.
"It was a courageous decision by Tommy," noted Celtic power forward Paul Silas.
Boston also decided to press the 36-year old Robertson, who was hampered by a leg injury and struggling all series, with fullcourt defense to tire him out.
Boston scored a layup off the opening tip as Cowens won the tap to Havlicek, whose perfect bounce pass led White in for a layup.
Standout defensive guard Chaney hounded Oscar 94 feet and disrupted the Buck offense. But Chaney got into foul trouble pressuring the Big O, and was replaced by talented second-year guard Paul Westphal.
All Westy did was score 12 huge points off the bench and continue to harass and frustrate the Big O into a dismal 2-of-13 shooting performance in his swansong with great defense of his own.
But game seven turned out to be the game of Dave Cowens' career. He bombed in a long right wing jumper at the buzzer to give the Celtics a 22-20 lead after one period.
Freed from the wearing shackles of playing Jabbar one on one, Cowens shone brightest in game seven. He used his superior perimeter game to drain several long jumpers.
Then when the slower-footed Jabbar came out to contest Cowens, the fiery redhead blew by the laterally-challenged superstar for layups and running hooks by utilizing his much-better speed and quickness.
The running, pressing Celtics stretched their lead to 53-40 at halftime. Cowens drained two outside shots, followed by a 16-footer from Don Nelson.
Milwaukee battled back within 71-66 after three periods, buoyed by their sellout home crowd.
But Jabbar finally tired down the stretch under the swarming defense and relentless aggression of Cowens, and withered in the final minutes, leaving hooks and multiple free throws short.
With the Bucks hanging within striking distance, Boston put on a 10-0 run to put the game away and the title in their grasp.
A driving three-point play by Hondo, a long right corner jumper by Cowens and an improvised alley-oop from Westphal to Dave fueled the decisive flurry and put the hard-earned title on ice.
Cowens enjoyed his best outing of the series with game-high totals of 28 points and 14 rebounds, leading the Celtics to a surprisingly decisive 102-87 road win.
Jabbar scored 26 but hit on 10 of 21 from the field. Robertson was held to just six points in his swansong.
Havlicek was named series MVP after leading Boston to their 12th banner - AND long-awaited first without Russell - after averaging 26.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the epic Finals.
At age 34 the driven, stoic superstar had finally proved to himself and everyone else the former sixth man could win the big one without Russell (or Lucas in college), and was acknowledged as the best all-around player in the game.
Some knowledgable observers even called the indefatigible three-sport All-Ohio star the best athlete in pro sports at the time, and they may have been right.
No less an authority than Bill Russell called Havlicek the greatest all-around player in the history of the NBA in a 1974 Sports Illustrated feature article on his former teammate.
Supporting that strong assertion, from 1970-74 Hondo put together one of the greatest five-year stretches of all-around brilliance in NBA history.
Averaging roughly 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game in that span while swinging seamlessly between forward and guard, the 6-5 running machine also was named to the all-defense team every year.
The quiet son of a butcher who spoke only Czech at their rural Ohio home was the NBA's version of Lou Gehrig in many ways. He missed just 10 games in those five great seasons, six of those in 1974. One of the league's smartest players, he was also one of the most clutch players ever, as well as an excellent passer and a dogged competitor.
Separating himself from the ballyhooed triple-double season of Robertson, who was merely a decent defender, Havlicek was named all-defense the first eight years the NBA bestowed the honor from 1969-76, including five first consecutive team nods from 1972-76.
In the 1970-71 campaign, Hondo averaged a then-club record 28.9 ppg, nine rebounds and 7.5 assists a game while making second team all-defense. That all-around season stacks up with any in league history, but the rebuilding 44-38 Celtics just missed the playoffs.
He followed that year with 27.5 ppg, 8.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists in 1971-72, leading Boston to the division title and the East finals, where they lost to the Knicks, 4-1. In both seasons, he topped the NBA in minutes played at just over 45 minutes per game, and played 163 out of 164 contests.
One last run for the "Over-the-Hill-Gang"
In 1975, defending champion Boston tied Washington for the league's best record at 60-22. But in the Eastern finals, the physical Bullets pulled off a minor upset of the short-benched Celtics, 4-2.
The Bullets celebrated so much after winning game six at home that Red Auerbach noted they were emotionally drained/over-confident. Thus despite being major favorites, they were swept by Golden State and Rick Barry in a shocking Finals upset, 4-0.
The next season, as America celebrated its bicentennial 200th birthday amid much fanfare, many basketball observers thought the Celtics were too old to win another crown. Defending champion Golden State was the favorite to repeat for the first time since the Celtics of 1968 and 1969.
Yet Havlicek and Nelson each turned 36 during the 1976 playoffs. Silas was almost 33. White was nearly 30 and Cowens 28, but they seemed older than that due to playing so many minutes over the previous six seasons for the hard-running, little-depth Celtics.
In addition, going to at least the eastern finals four straight years had taken a toll and shortened the recovery time every off-season since 1972.
But Celtic pride, a little luck from leprechaun and the Spirit of '76 lifted the older squad to one last title. Auerbach traded his best young chip in 25-year old Paul Westphal to Phoenix for former All-Star Charlie Scott in an effort to win right away.
Cleveland rose in the East to take New York's position as Boston's biggest obstacle to banner number 13, along with the always-tough Buffalo Braves, then coached by Jack Ramsay.
Yet just as in 1974, Boston had to get by the Braves and sweet-shooting Bob McAdoo in the eastern semis to reach their fifth straight conference final. In a close series, Cowens scored 24.5 ppg and White added 23.8 ppg.
Leading 3-2 heading to the sixth game at Buffalo, Boston rallied in the fourth period without a fouled-out Cowens to eliminate the Braves, 104-100. Scott paid dividends with a series-high 31 points, scoring 15 in the final period, including nine in a row at one point.
The tough defense of the underrated Silas wore down McAdoo, who was held to nine points after halftime in the elimination game loss. Thus it was on to eastern final number five in a row for the Celtics.
But after scoring 26 in a 111-99 opening game win over the Cavs Havlicek injured his foot, and the Cavs rallied from 0-2 down to tie the series 2-2. Even though Cleveland was without its solid center Jim Chones due to a broken foot, the young club smelled blood in the water.
In the pivotal fifth game at Boston, Hondo patiently sat the bench until the final 5:03 as the Cavs inched ahead 86-85. When he returned to the parquet floor Cowens, who led all scorers with 22 points, canned two big baskets and a pair of foul shots to put the Celtics back in front.
Then with just 11 seconds left, Havlicek nailed two clutch free throws for his only points of the game to clinch a 99-94 win and a 3-2 series lead.
Before a raucous sell-out crowd of 21,564 at the Richfield Coliseum in game six, the upet-minded Cavs built a 69-65 lead after three taut periods. Neither team had lost at home yet in the series, and it appeared that trend would hold true again.
But Boston chipped away and took an 86-85 lead late in the tense battle. Scott then made a crucial steal and breakaway layup to extend the lead to three, and the more-experienced Celtics pulled away for a 94-87 series-clinching victory.
White scored 16 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, while Cowens netted 21 and Scott added 20. Hondo made a triumphant home state return even though he played sparingly and scored just four points. Austin Carr topped Cleveland with 26 markers.
With veteran playoff experience, skill and guile, Boston was able to advance to their 14th championship series showing over the Cavalier team coached by future Celtic mentor Bill Fitch.
Expecting to face the Warriors in the Finals, the defending champs who led the NBA with 59 victories, the limping Celtics were given a lift and reprieve by a major surprise.
The upstart 42-40 Phoenix Suns, led by ex-Celtic Westphal and Rookie of the Year center Alvan Adams, upset Golden State and Rick Barry in a seventh game shocker by the bay. Thus the expansion Suns advanced to the first championship series in their short nine-year history.
The Celtics pulled away late in game one to register a 98-87 victory over plucky Phoenix. Rookie 6-9 center Adams, an excellent shooter and passer who also leaped well, scored 26 points in his duel with Cowens, who led Boston with 25 markers. White netted 22 and Havlicek added 16.
In game two, the Celtics broke open a close game with a 34-16 second quarter explosion en route to a 105-90 victory. Havlicek scored 23 points and Cowens 16, while Westphal tallied a game-high 28 and Adams added 19. It appeared the Celtics might cruise to banner number 13.
"They will have to burn the uniform off John," said CBS analyst/All-Star Rick Barry of Havlicek, who announced during the Finals that he would be coming back the next year for another season with Boston, his 15th.
The scene shifted to a raucous valley of the sun in Phoenix for game three, a must win for the hosts. The Suns jumped out to a 52-39 halftime lead and held off a Celtic charge to win 105-98.
Adams outscored a foul-plagued Cowens 33-13, and Westphal added 22 to pace the Suns to the victory. White topped Boston with 24 points, but a gimpy Hondo was held to nine.
Game four was a sizzler, arguably the best-played contest of the series - high praise considering the fifth game to follow. It was tight throughout, as both teams featured superb ball and player movement, passing and shooting. After winning game three, the Suns were playing with new confidence at home.
Boston rallied late within 109-107, and had a chance to tie in the final seconds. Havlicek passed to White on the right wing, but his 20-footer fell well short at the buzzer and the surprising Suns evened the series, 2-2.
Westphal poured in 28 points and Adams added 20 for the winners. White led Boston with 25 and Cowens contributed 22. Former Suns Silas and Scott added 18 and 14 respectively, but it was not quite enough.
Then came the triple-overtime epic game five, often called the greatest contest in NBA history.
With the aging but ageless Havlicek inspirationally inserted back into the starting lineup (yet still slowed by a foot injury), fired-up Boston ran out to a 22-point lead before an appreciative home crowd eager to ground a rising Phoenix.
Order appeared to have been restored to the NBA universe. Just who were these underdog unknowns to challenge the mighty Celtic tradition, anyway?
Yet the spunky Suns, playing with house money, never backed down. They had showed true grit in winning game seven at defending champion Golden State, and displayed it time and again throughout the Finals. They slowly pecked away in half two in an especially hostile Friday night atmosphere, eventually tying it to force overtime at 95-all.
After one extra session it was still knotted 101-101 when Havlicek's long baseline shot missed. In the second OT Boston appeared to be in charge, but a late steal by Westphal led to a Curtis Perry baseline jumper that gave Phoenix four quick points and an unthinkable one-point lead with just seconds left.
Yet after a timeout to set up a play for its clutch veteran Havlicek, Boston remained confident, at least outwardly. Hondo took a sideline in-bounds pass from Nelson, drove left and banked in a hanging 14-footer over Ricky Sobers as time apparently ran out for a thrilling 111-110 win.
Delirious fans streamed onto the court and referee Richie Powers was slugged by a fan during the melee, probably for fouling out Cowens and waving off a key basket by the redhead moments before which would have all but clinched a Celtic win.
However, after the court was cleared it was ruled that one second still remained - even though it appeared two seconds were actually still left when the shot banked through the net, which should have stopped the clock then. After a fairly lengthy and controversial delay, the players were brought back out of the locker room to finish off what seemed to be a mere formality.
Yet in that interim, future coach Westphal cleverly persuaded Sun coach John MacLeod to take an intentional extra timeout to get a technical. Years later, even Larry Bird admitted he would not have had the presence of mind to think of such a brilliant tactical move.
But former Trojan star Westphal had seen USC football coach John McKay take intentional penalties to stop the clock late in games in order to stop the clock, and this memory stuck with the southern California native.
Having already taken the tape off his ankles in a prematurely-victorious locker room, White drained the technical shot after coming back on the court to put Boston up, 112-110.
Yet after the intentional technical, Phoenix got what it really wanted - the ball at halfcourt instead of 94 feet away, with a second remaining. Thus they had a much better chance to tie it in those pre-three point days of the NBA.
And when Garfield Heard caught the in-bounds toss thrown past a leaping 6-9 Jim Ard, who was in for Cowens, Heard turned and quickly let fly with a prayer over the flailing arm of Nelson from the top of the key.
Known for his high-arching, rainbow-style shot but not a good outside marksman, Heard's ICBM seemed to hang in the air for minutes and nearly brush the bottom of the banners hanging from the Garden rafters before nestling softly into the basket as the buzzer sounded.
Referee Don Murphy indicated that the shot counted. Sobers and the Suns celebrated the miracle shot, while Phoenix backup center Dennis Awtrey happily motioned the Celtic fans ringing the court, eager to storm the court in victory, to back up off the floor.
The miraculous tying launch, which seemed to be a 30-footer due to the uber-high trajectory but was actually closer to only 21 feet, forced a third overtime.
With both teams running on fumes and a total of five key players and three Boston starters having fouled out in the marathon, the Celtics turned to little-used but well-rested backup guard Glenn McDonald.
All the unassuming McDonald did was score six huge points in the third OT to put Boston ahead, 128-122. Yet the Suns were not yet quite done. Westphal drove upcourt and tossed in a spectacular, running 360-degree midair banker from the left elbow.
Instead of running clock, McDonald then mishandled an ill-advised alley-oop from Ard. Adams scooped up the loose ball and threw a bomb to Westphal for a layup that cut it to 128-126 in the waning seconds.
Pressing fullcourt in desperation for another steal, Westphal almost deflected a floating crosscourt pass and went flying out of bounds in the process.
Original Sun swingman Dick Van Arsdale, playing valiantly with a taped-up broken wrist, grabbed Nelson to try and get an intentional foul called, but none was forthcoming. White dribbled out the final seconds near midcourt, then tossed a tired 40-foot hook shot off the glass after the buzzer as the crowd rushed the floor again - this time for good.
JoJo had scored 33 huge points while playing all but five of the 63 minutes. Cowens tallied 26 before fouling out, while Hondo added 22. Westphal and Sobers each scored 25 for the Suns, while Perry contributed a series-high 23. Adams added 20 and Heard tallied 17, including the biggest two of his career that improbably forced the final OT.
Across the country in Phoenix less than two days later, the two tired teams struggled to score in a defensive struggle. Boston led 38-33 at the half, foreshadowing the scores of the offensively-challenged mid-1990's NBA.
But then former Sun Scott, who amazingly had fouled out in each of the first five games of the Finals, came up with his best game of the series for Boston when it was needed most.
During the flight to Arizona before the clincher, backcourt mate White impressed upon Scott how important it was for the more-rested Charlie to come up big in game six, and he did. Scott justified his acquisition in the costly deal for Westphal by tallying a series-high 25 points in game six.
It was Charlie's third straight big sixth game in a clinching win during all three Celtic playoff series that spring.
But it was a foul-plagued Cowens who doused the Suns down the stretch by scoring nine of his 21 points. With a very close game hanging in the balance and saddled with five fouls, the hard-charging center forged ahead and seized the crown with a series of big plays.
First, Cowens sealed Adams on a fine spin move and banked in a right-handed layup off a fine Silas feed. He then drained a short turnaround jumper over Adams. Next, Dave executed his signature move, a quick spin off the low right block to his left under and to the hoop for two more.
Capping his decisive run, Dave pulled off the clinching play of the game and series. As Adams drove to the basket, Cowens dangerously poked his hand in and dislodged the ball, even though a sixth foul would have disqualified him from the contest and thus made a seventh game much more likely.
The speedy big man recovered the loose ball, then rumbled upcourt like a runaway locomotive for a two on one fast break. As he approached the basket driving to his right across the lane, he subtly faked a pass to Scott to freeze the defense, kept the ball and banked in a beautiful reverse, overhead layup all while drawing a foul.
Such a play today would be replayed endlessly on the highlight shows and during the game. But back then, Big Red did not celebrate, as was customary with the no-frills, non-theatric Celtics of the 1970's.
And he calmly drained the free throw to complete the play without any self-promoting antics or chest thumping.
"No one plays with greater desire than Dave Cowens," said Warrior great Barry, who was serving as an analyst for CBS during the Finals after his championship team was upset by Phoenix the previous round.
The daring steal and three-point drive finally drove a stake through the heart of the Suns, leading Boston to an 87-80 victory and their 13th title. White (21.7 ppg, 5.8 assists, 45% FG) was named MVP of the Finals.
But it just as easily could have been Big Red, who averaged 20.5 points, 16.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 54 percent from the field in the classic series. Havlicek noted in the post-game CBS interview with ex-referee Mendy Rudolph that the key to winning was "keeping Dave on the court" after he had fouled out in games three and five.
In the victorious locker room, Hondo also humbly praised the spunky Suns for never giving up. He also noted that his eighth NBA title had been the toughest to win, due in large part to age, injury and the Phoenix refusal to go away.
"The Suns did not lose this series, they just ran out of time," summed up CBS announcer/reporter Brent Musburger. But they also lacked the veteran know-how to close out a title series, something the Celtics possessed, especially Hondo and Cowens.
Rebuilding the Celtic dynasty
After winning their 11th championship over 13 years in 1969, the Celtics slid to 34-48 and finished a distant sixth out of seven teams in the East of 1970. Russell and Sam Jones had retired, taking 20 rings with them, and the climb back to the top looked to be formidable.
Boston traded stalwarts Larry Siegfried (Hondo's best friend and teammate dating back to Ohio State) and Bailey Howell from the last title teams, and began to retool for another chapter in Celtic lore.
Only Havlicek remained from the banner years as a star, with key reserve Don Nelson also in tow. Boston drafted a key piece in guard JoJo White in 1969, and he became a standout by his second season.
The non-player who, along with Auerbach, guided the 1970's Celtics to perennial contention was coach Heinsohn, a multi-talented and driven man. A standout forward, he won eight NBA titles in nine years and was the 1957 Rookie of the Year. He brought his drive as a player to the Boston bench and rode the team back to prominence.
A very intense competitor, Tom was Red Auerbach's first choice to replace him when he retired as Celtic head coach in 1966, just one year after Heinsohn had hung up his playing shoes. Heinsohn, who was also a talented painter, turned Red down because he did not feel he could coach his former teammate, the moody Bill Russell.
Tom had long served as Red's whipping boy during his playing days because Auerbach knew he could take it, and was a very smart, tough competitor. As a boy growing up in the northeast during World War II, Heinsohn was chased home from school regularly by classmates intent on beating him up due to his German ancestry.
Nicknamed Ack-Ack and Tommy Gun due to his penchant for firing up shots, Heinsohn was such a basketball junkie that he played in several leagues at a time growing up, many under assumed names so as not to jeopardize his college eligibility.
He told Red he would be interested in the Celtic coaching job once Russ retired, and went into announcing NBA games for ABC - a job he would later take up again for CBS in the 1980's, and with the Celtics for decades to this day.
Russell won his 11th title in 1969 and finally retired. With Havlicek the lone star holdover from the championship era, Heinsohn took over a major rebuilding job yet quickly turned Boston back into a winner.
After drafting relative unknown Cowens, in his second season Boston improved by 10 wins to 44-38 (but they missed the playoffs) behind a full-bore running offense geared around the intense Cowens, the tireless Havlicek and the sharpshooting White.
By his third campaign, the intense Heinsohn had driven the Celtics back to title contention. The next season, he guided Boston to the best record in franchise history, and they remained a championship caliber club through 1976.
The fiery Cowens and the tireless Havlicek drove the Celtics in the 1970's, but the underrated White was also an indispensable third key for Heinsohn's attack.
An All-Star every year from 1971-77, JoJo was a tremendous shooter, fine passer, solid defender and another, like Hondo and Dave, in top shape. Even in his 40's, White made a comeback with the CBA Topeka Sizzlers. A fine one-on-one player, he frequently sublimated his excellent scoring skills for the good of the team.
In 1972, White advanced all the way to the finals of the one-on-one competition sponsored by the NBA on ABC. The 6-3 guard ultimately lost to 6-11 Bob Lanier in the title game, but not before he gave the Piston big man a close tussle.
White is arguably the best all-around guard in team history, with Sam Jones, Dennis Johnson and Bob Cousy also in the running for that coveted honor. But JoJo was overshadowed by contemporary rival Frazier and upstaged by the charismatic play and wardrobe of "Clyde."
The cleverly icy, mutton-chopped New Yorker's slightly greater play, great clutch performances and his big-city publicity machine earned Walt more ink than White's less hypnotic style.
In an era laden with great backcourtmen like Jerry West, Frazier and Robertson during the early 1970's, White was simply overlooked. He also wasn't as flashy as other star guards of the era like Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich, George Gervin or even Westphal, nor as mercurial as Doug Collins or Calvin Murphy.
He was just extremely consistent, averaging 18-23 points and 4.5 to six assists per game from 1970-77, when age began to slow the speedster down incrementally. And his sort of fine consistency is often seen as boring or taken for granted after a while.
In 1974, with Boston leading Buffalo 3-2 in the East semis and game six tied in the final seconds, White rebounded a Bob McAdoo block and was fouled at the buzzer by Buffalo Bob.
As the only man on the hostile Buffalo court while the partisan Brave crowd screamed and stomped loudly, JoJo calmly drained both pressure foul shots to advance Boston to the conference finals, then ran off the court without much celebration.
As CBS commentator Brent Musburger said late in game six of the 1976 NBA Finals, "In a franchise known for its great guards (Cousy, Sharman, Jones), JoJo White doesn't get the credit he deserves...he has handled the pressure well."
The fact that White has not been inducted to the Hall of Fame, while a fine guard who never even sniffed an NBA title like Mitch Richmond was voted in last year, seems a great oversight.
Especially in view of JoJo's stellar play for America on the 1968 Olympic gold medal team, his standout college career at Kansas and his starring role in two NBA title squads.
Cowens epitomized the 1970's Celtics and was the second-best center of the decade (behind Jabbar) in an era chock-full of Hall of Fame big men.
Starting in 1970, the unsung fourth overall pick out of Florida State burst on the scene and was co-Rookie of the Year (with Geoff Petrie), rewarded ahead of more heralded rooks like Bob Lanier, Rudy Tomjanovich and Pistol Pete.
He was named to the 50 Greatest list in 1997 (along with Havlicek), was picked for eight All-Star Games, and was MVP of the 1973 mid-season classic. Over his first seven seasons, no one ever played harder at a higher skill level than Dave, who was also a very smart player.
Willis Reed called him one of his favorite competitors to face. No less an authority than Hondo, who played the first half of his career with Russell and the second half with Cowens, said years later that "no one ever did more for the Celtics than Dave Cowens."
Heinsohn invented a new point center offense to take advantage of Dave's unique skills, hustle and athletic abilities. As fast as any guard, as strong pound for pound as anyone in the NBA and a tremendous leaper, Dave was not a great shooter when he first entered the NBA. He was a slightly better athlete than player.
But with practice he became a very good outside shooter, especially for a center, and became a truly great player. He drew bigger opposing centers away from the hoop to create driving lanes for himself and teammates.
Cowens was also a fine passer and great rebounder who would efficiently and consistently get his 20, 15 and five regularly while shooting just over 16 times a game.
All while playing hell-bound, knee-scraping defense as the best center ever to switch out on screens and hound smaller guards. His incredibly quick and aggressive hedges became the scourge of NBA guards whose centers were unwise enough to set a screen for them, setting the smaller backcourtmen up for Dave's ferociously hard switches.
Upon Dave's Naismith Hall of Fame induction in 1991, fellow inductee Bob Knight said Cowens was "one of the few players he would turn on the TV to watch." Cowens chose Bob Pettit, an NBA all-time great of similar size, skill and intensity, as his Hall presenter.
The Celtics of that era also boasted several other key players. Chaney was a tremendously long-armed defensive backcourt ace at 6-5 who teamed well with White.
A smart player almost always under control, Duck started out as a poor shooter but became adequate as a marksman before leaving the Celtics as a free agent in 1975 for an ill-fated run in the ABA.
He came back to the NBA with none other than the hated Lakers before finishing up back with the Celtics in 1979-80, making him the only man to play with both Russell (as a rookie in Bill's last season), and with Larry Bird in Don's final season/Bird's first pro campaign.
Heady Don Nelson served as Havlicek's forward runningmate starter from 1970-72 and then as a sixth man, alternating with Paul Silas in the famed Celtic reserve role, from 1972-76.
Knick defensive ace and future 11-time champion coach Phil Jackson, himself a very smart player, told Keith Jackson before game four of the 1973 East Finals on Easter Sunday that Nelson gave him the most trouble of all the Celtic forwards he guarded. "Nellie is very coy," Phil told his namesake Keith in the ABC pre-game.
A fine shooter who scored as many as 14 ppg in one season, Don was a solid passer and another very cagey Cetic player, he retired after Boston won the 1976 crown. He was a fine foul shooter, utilizing his unique one-handed near shotput style at the foul line.
Almost immediately became one of the NBA's youngest coaches when the Bucks hired him. Nellie molded the Bucks into a perennial contender which won seven consecutive Central Division titles from 1981-87.
The acquisition of rebounding ace Paul Silas for the 1972-73 season is what took Boston to the championship level by shoring up their depth and board work. The veteran was a fine defender, selfless teammate and one of the best rebounding forwards in league history, a huge upgrade over Nellie in that area.
His acquisition also allowed the older Nelson move mainly into the key Celtic sixth man role, where he provided instant offense and clutch play.
Silas was particularly strong on the offensive glass, where he and Cowens relentlessly attacked opponents and the missed shots of teammates with abandon. Cowens was a great tip-shot maker, and he and Silas formed a reckless, physical and hard-working duo on the boards that no frontcourt tandem equaled in that era, except for perhaps the Bullet duo of Elvin Hayes and Wes Useld.
Silas was also a clever, high-intangibles player. Even though he was a mediocre shooter at best, Paul could score just enough to keep defenses honest. And like all the Celtics of the time, he ran the floor well despite his muscular, big frame.
His two clutch free throws at the very end of game 6 in the 1973 ECF vs. New York, with elimination on the line, gave Boston a 98-97 victory.
In his four seasons wearing Celtic green, the consistent 6-7 Silas averaged over 13 rebounds per game and just under 13 ppg. Boston won two rings and made it to the East finals in all four of his seasons. When he left, they missed the ECF for the first time since 1971.
In his last three NBA years as he approached 40, the heady Silas won a third title as the elder statesman of a young Seattle team in 1979, and came within a single game of copping another crown with the Sonics in 1978 as they lost to the Bullets in seven.
Westphal was a rare Celtic high first round draft pick in 1972, but Heinsohn's reluctance to use much bench, let alone a flashy rookie, limited his playing time early. A fine passer, shotmaker and the most ambidextrous player of his time, Paul was also a smart, underrated defender with quick hands and fine leaping ability.
The 6-4 guard particularly liked to dunk left-handed. He became a strong bench contributor in Boston from 1973-75, scoring nearly 10 ppg in 1974-75. Thus his puzzling trade to Phoenix at 25 when Chaney jumped to the Spirits of St. Louis just as Westphal was about to blossom into arguably the NBA's finest guard from 1976-80, ranks as one of the most questionable trades in Celtic history.
Even though the veteran, streak-shooting Scott helped Boston win that 1976 crown, he was just starting the downside of his fine career. Charlie was a quick big guard at 6-6 and an explosive scorer, as well as an aggressive defender who often fouled out.
He had good hands and a nose for steals as well. His clutch game 6 performance in the '76 Finals helped Boston clinch banner number 13, precisely what he was brought to Beantown for.
Steve Kuberski was an underrated backup forward for eight seasons with the Celtics, playing on both title teams in the decade, with a stint in Buffalo squeeed in between. But he may have been better known for playing second banana to Havlicek in some laughable 'Lectric Shave commercials during the mid-1970's.
Amazingly in the advertisement, the balls kept bouncing back to the shooting duo in perfect rhythm as they discussed the oft-unshaven and shaggy-haired Steve's lackluster, perennial three-day growth ("Steve, your beard is just laying there") while they practiced mid-range jumpers in the ancient Garden. One has to guess guess they had some great backspin on those shots - or someone feeding them passes off camera.
Kevin Stacom was a quick, good defensive backcourt backup from Providence on the 1976 champs. Despite being the lesser-known guard on the 1973 Friar Final Four team led by Ernie DiGregorio and coached by future Big East guru and Celtic president Dave Gavitt, he was a solid player.
In the 1976 Finals at Phoenix, Stacom got into a celebrated scuffle with the aggressive and muscular Sobers, who had also picked a fight with Barry in game seven of the western finals.
Jim Ard was a good-leaping 6-9 backup center from Cincinnati who joined Boston for the 1974-75 campaign after four seasons in the ABA. There were not many minutes available behind Cowens, but Ard was a capable reserve who made much of his sporadic playing time.
Ard contributed eight crucial points in the epic triple overtime win over Phoenix in game five of the 1976 Finals, including two key foul shots in the last extra session after Cowens had fouled out. Ard actually scored 24 points in 60 minutes during those Finals, solid numbers.
In 1976-77, the Celtic run atop the league began slipping into decay due mainly to age and overuse. Sensing the need to get younger, deeper and better in their halfcourt offense, Auerbach gambled and for one of the few times, lost.
He sent Silas, an irreplaceable cornerstone of the team's hard-nosed work ethic, to Denver in a three-way trade amid a series of moves that brought Boston the more talented but much also more selfish UCLA bookend forwards Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe.
Eight games into the 1976-77 season a discouraged Cowens, deprived of his pal and board-banging mate Silas, took a soul-searching 68-day hiatus from the team.
He sold Christmas trees, drove a cab and stayed home as he contemplated whether he wanted to keep playing while approaching age 30. Arguably the most driven player in the league, he had temporarily lost the drive which made him extra special.
His worn-out mindset seemed to serve as an examplar of what was wrong with the NBA at the time; if the league's pre-eminent All-Star hustler on its most celebrated club was disillusioned with the game and burned out, the public figured something must be wrong with the league.
With West, Robertson, Wilt and other long-term stalwarts of the league recently retired, and marquee big-market teams like New York, the Lakers, Chicago and Celtics struggling after carrying the league in the first half of the 1970's, the NBA began to lose fans in droves, and it showed up in flagging TV ratings by 1978.
Cowens was one of the few symbolic bridges to the new ABA-merger era NBA expected to carry on the fundamental, old-school style of play most of the paying public appreciated. Now it appeared he may have been done too, and many fans did not appreciate the sea change taking place.
However, even though he played hard and well upon his return, Cowens never was quite the same player as he was before his 30-game break - except perhaps for his rejuvenated 1979-80 season when Bird was a rookie.
His points dropped to a career-low average (from 19 to 16.4), rebounds fell from 16.0 to 13.9 per game, and his field goal shooting (.468 to .434) dropped significantly. Yet his assists per game rose from 4.2 to five.
The Celtics, like the Yankees, were a national brand with world-wide following, and their championship clubs embodied unselfish team play to fans. Now they were in danger of slipping into the same selfish style many of the other teams suffered from, which in some circles seemed almost sacreligious.
The talented but troubled Wicks, in particular, affected team chemistry negatively, much like he had threatened to do at UCLA. Rowe was a solid player but not nearly worth the baggage he brought with him, and the team lacked depth.
Meanwhile the club aged, Heinsohn raged and Hondo returned to his sixth man role as he approached age 37. Still, led by White and the return of Cowens, Boston squeaked into the playoffs at 44-38 and swept the NBA rookie Spurs of Gervin in a first round mini-series, 2-0.
In the eastern semifinals they faced a familiar heated foe in the younger, hungry and star-laden 76ers of Dr. J, Doug Collins, George McGinnis. Philly's wildly eccentric bomb squad of characters featured no-conscience gunner Lloyd (later World B.) Free, dunking teenager Darryl Dawkins of Lovetron, ex-All Star Steve Mix and Kobe's dad, journeyman Joe "Jellybean" Bryant.
The Celtics won game one 113-111 in Philly on a clutch baseline jumper at the buzzer by JoJo White. But it turned out to be the club's last hurrah.
The rivals battled on to a seventh game, where streak-shooter Free broke open a defensive struggle late by hitting several long jumpers. Free scored 27 points, far more than the entire Boston bench combined, as Philly held on for an 83-77 win that dethroned the Celtics and kept them from a sixth straight ECF showing.
Fans rushed the Spectrum court and the 76ers celebrated as if they had won the title, so big was beating the hated defending champions. Hondo scored 13 points in the 172nd and final playoff game of his legendary career.
Cowens dropped from 21 ppg in the previous championship year to 16.6 in the 1977 playoffs. Havlicek scored 18.3 ppg in the 1977 post-season, but shot just 37 percent from the field, his lowest in 12 years. The reliable White hit for 23.3 pg in the playoffs, yet the Celtics got very little bench production and the aging, depth-challenged team wore down against the younger 76ers.
After getting past Houston in six tough games Philly almost did win that elusive ring, but the Sixers came up short against Portland, which was led by another talented, intense and skilled red-headed center named Bill Walton in a memorable championship series, 4-2.
An old Boston team devolving into dissension would not contend again in the so-called "me" decade, however. Havlicek retired one year later in 1978 after a depressing 32-win season that ended well short of the playoffs for just the fourth time in his 16 glorious seasons, eight of which ended up in the champion's circle.
The 1978-79 campaign was even worse, with the club starting 2-12 under ex-Celtic defensive ace Satch Sanders. Satch was let go and Cowens was named player-coach as the Celtics ended up 29-53 under the fiery redhead.
A few years later, Hondo lamented that "if I had known this Bird kid was coming, I would have stayed around a few more years to play with him."
It is interesting to ponder how Havlicek might have helped the resurgent 1979-80 Celtics get over the hump in a key reserve role, perhaps even his old sixth man position. John had averaged over 16 ppg at age 38 just two years before, so an athlete as well-conditioned as Havlicek could easily still have been a solid reserve contributor at 40.
His veteran skills, leadership and smarts could well have provided the impetus to get a playoff-inexperienced Boston team over the top past the 76ers and Lakers in the playoffs that year. For him to go out with a title in Bird's rookie season over LA would have seemed perfect poetic justice.
White was reportedly upset he was not considered for the player-coach duties in 1978, and he was unceremoniously dealt to Golden State. JoJo finished up his NBA career with Kansas City, near his hometown of St Louis.
Cowens, his great athleticism severely hampered by a recurring foot injury and overall body fatigue after 10 breakneck campaigns, retired in the fall of 1980. But not until after he enjoyed one more fine resurgent 61-21 season in Bird's rookie campaign that ended up in the disappointing 4-1 ECF loss to the 76ers.
Unfortunately for Dave and Maravich, who also retired during that 1980-81 pre-season, they each missed out on the winning of 14th Celtic title, led by Bird the following spring.
The muscular southpaw made a brief comeback with Milwaukee under his buddy Nelson in 1982-83 after Boston traded Cowens for Quinn Buckner, then he retired for good.
The Bucks swept the Bill Fitch-mutinying Celts 4-0 that spring in the post-season, but Dave was sidelined by injury, hampering one of Milwaukee's best title chances of the Nellie era.
However, as an assistant coach for the Spurs in the mid-1990's Dave almost came back again as a player when San Antonio was decimated by frontcourt injuries. Few who knew him doubted that the athletically-gifted and driven Cowens could still have played in a reduced reserve role, even in his mid-40's.
Heinsohn was let go in 1978 after a nine-year run and 474 total wins, replaced by former teammate Sanders and then Cowens for 68 games (27-41). He later went on to an excellent announcing career with CBS and the Celtic network, where he remains to this day.
Smart Celtics of the 70's become coaches of the future - but not in Boston
Curiously, although five of the 1974 NBA champion Celtics went on to become head coaches, none became full-time head coaches of Boston. Surely, timing had a lot to do with the shutout, but one wonders if there were not bridges burnt between key players and team patriarch Auerbach.
The blunt, outspoken Cowens was openly critical of the Silas deal and then ended up coming back with the rival Bucks after a nearly done deal with the Suns fizzled.
Nelson angered Red by calling easy target Danny Ainge a "dirty player" in the 1983 playoffs and had three heated series against the Celtics, and his long run with the Bucks ended after a gut-wrenching game seven loss at Boston in 1987.
Silas served as an assistant coach for the hated Knicks in 1990, when New York rallied to upset Boston 3-2. Westphal nearly led Phoenix to a title upset of the Celtcs in 1976.
Chaney also coached the Knicks, albeit much later, along with the Rockets and Clippers. Nellie won the Red Auerbach Coach of the Year Award three times, while Duck won it once with Houston.
But other than the unsuccessful 68-game player-coach tenure of Cowens in 1978-79, none of the great Celtics of the 1970's ever served as coach of Boston.
Nelson guided great teams in Milwaukee and Dallas, as well as fine clubs in Golden State as he became the all-time winningest coach in NBA history.
But the luck of the leprechaun that helped him win five rings as a Celtic escaped him as a coach; his great Buck teams were always thwarted by the 76ers or Celtics in the great East of the 1980's, and his best Maverick and Warrior teams were shut out by injury, bad luck and playing in the much-improved West of the 1990's and 2000's.
Cowens had a solid stint as Charlotte head coach in the late 1990's, and then unselfishly resigned so runningmate/assistant Silas could take over. Paul also coached the Clippers and Cavs in a solid post-playing career.
Westphal took the Suns to the 1993 Finals in his first season as Phoenix head coach, where they lost to the Bulls but won a triple-OT third game, making him the only man to play and coach in a three-overtime Finals contest. Westy also coached Seattle and Sacramento, was an assistant in Dallas and Brooklyn, and guided Grand Canyon College to an NAIA national title.
Unheralded Celtics of the 1970's summed up
The ironmen Celtics of the decade, having made it to five straight conference finals despite a short bench, almost wheezed their way to a last title in 1976. The team was probably on its last legs, featuring an injured Havlicek at 36, Nelson in his final season at 36 and Silas well into his 30's.
Even White and Cowens, who were nearing 30, seemed older because they played so hard and so many minutes so deep into the playoffs every year, all of which made this incredibly hard-working team old, hurt and tired (sounds a bit like the Celtics of the late 1980's, doesn't it?).
The Heinsohn-coached Celtics did not use their bench much in this era, playing seven players mostly. Their core players rarely missed a game, pushed the ball incredibly hard and battled as ferociously as any era in club history, epitomized by the fierce Cowens, the relentlessly running Havlicek and the stoic but lethal White.
They were not as glamorous as the Bird-era Celtics, nor as consistently championship-level for as long as the Russell teams, who incredibly won every title but one in the 1960's NBA. But that league featured just eight and then later, 10 teams.
In the 1970's, the league had more teams and improved front offices/franchises who learned from the Celtic dynasty and hungered to beat Boston even more to make up for their dominance over the previous decade-plus.
In the parity-driven decade of the 1970's, where no team repeated as NBA champion, one of the best epochs in league history unfolded, especially through 1977. Great teams like the Knicks, Lakers, Bucks and Warriors shared the title with the Celtic powerhouses while fighting off many fine Bullets and Bulls teams.
Only Boston and New York won more than one title in the decade, as each captured two. The Bullets actually made it to four Finals in the decade, but only won it all once (1978), while being swept twice. If not for the Havlicek injury, Boston easily could have won three crowns and NY just one.
The unspectacular but greatly-conditioned, relentless running Boston squads of Hondo, Big Red, JoJo and Heinsohn were a truly great team from 1971-76, comprising the most underappreciated flag-winning epoch in franchise history.
To contact the author directly, email Cort Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.