After a long season with months of games, practice, and travel, every once in a while a season comes down to one game for all the marbles. No tomorrow. Win or go home. All the cliches apply for a seventh game. And if it is a great game, it can justify the overly long seasons in all pro sports these days. Those two simple words conjure up images of sports most heroic deeds, infamous gaffes, lucky or unlucky breaks, and classic last-second finishes that help define careers and franchises.
No team in the NBA or in North American pro sports has had as many Game 7 successes as the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have played 29 seventh games and won 21 of them. 21-8. In the 20th century, the Celtics were 17-2 in Game 7 battles. At home, mostly at the hallowed Boston Garden where they fared well at 14-2 before heading to TD Garden, the Celtics are 20-5. In the 20th century on the road, the Celtics were 3-0, including 2-0 in the Finals (1969 and 1974).
Bill Russell was 10-0 in seventh games as the Celtics won their first ten ultimate showdowns. Meanwhile, Sam Jones was 9-0 with a career 27 points per game average in those deciders, while Bob Cousy was 6-0. Tom Heinsohn also never lost a seventh game in seven tries and won eight NBA crowns over his nine seasons. Russell and Jones were 5-0 in NBA Finals Game 7’s, while Cousy, John Havlicek, and Heinsohn were 3-0.
The Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish posted a 5-2 Game 7 record together from 1981-92. Havlicek was 6-2 starting in 1963 vs. Oscar Robertson and ending 14 years later vs. the 76ers and Dr. J in a 1977 loss.
The Celtics have lost a home seventh game just four times in 25 outings (only two at the old Boston Garden). In the 1973 Eastern Conference Finals, they fell to the Knicks after rallying from a 1-3 hole when Havlicek had an injured shooting shoulder (94-78). In the 1982 ECF, Boston lost to the rival 76ers (120-106) again after rallying from a 1-3 deficit with playmaker Nate Archibald sidelined by a separated shoulder. They fell to a 59-23 Orlando team in the 2009 East semis (101-82) with Kevin Garnett out and to Cleveland in the 2018 ECF (87-79) as they played without injured stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Another seventh game loss came at Indiana in the 2005 first round (97-70), as the Pacers were headed by former Celtics GM Larry Bird and head coach Rick Carlisle. The 76ers also beat an aging defending champion Boston in a classic seventh game in the 1977 Eastern Conference semis at Philadelphia, 83-77. It turned out to be the final playoff game of John Havlicek’s glorious career.
A Celtic seventh game I personally attended was a sad event as Larry Bird lost his last NBA game at Cleveland in 1992, 122-104. Racked by back trouble, Bird scored 12 points in his finale as Mark Price and Brad Daugherty played a near perfect game.
The only Game 7 championship series defeat for Boston came at the Staples Center in the 2010 Finals when the short-handed Celtics blew a 13-point third period lead and lost to the Lakers in a tight defensive battle, 83-79.
NBA Finals Game 7’s (6-1)
1) 1969: Boston 108, Los Angeles 106
Game 7 of the 1969 championship series was arguably the most dramatic finale in NBA history, and marked the end of an era as the greatest dynasty in league annals came to a fitting conclusion.
In order to put an exclamation point on the epic 1960’s Celtics run, Boston would have to win a title in the decisive seventh Finals game on the road for the first time at the two-year old fabulous Forum.
Before the season, the star-studded Lakers had acquired Russell’s arch-rival, Wilt Chamberlain, to form the original Big Three with Jerry West and a slightly hobbled Elgin Baylor.
In addition, it would be the final game for player-coach Russell and Sam Jones. An aging Boston squad sneaked into the playoffs at 48-34 as the fourth seed, but they knocked off the rival 76ers and the rising Knicks in the East playoffs to set up one last showdown with the favored Lakers.
Boston rallied from series deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to force the fateful finale. West exploded for 53 and 41 points in the first two Laker wins - without a three-point line and star calls, to boot.
But the series momentum turned in Game 4 when Jones bounced in an off-balance 18-footer just before the buzzer to win it for Boston, 89-88.
Had he missed, the Celtics would have trailed 3-1 heading back to LA for Game 5. Instead, the clutch shot by Jones kept Boston alive at 2-2 in search of its 11th title in 13 years.
Brash Lakers team owner Jack Kent Cooke was so confident of a Game 7 victory at home that he had hundreds of balloons suspended in netting high above the Forum floor. He printed out a post-game celebration outline circulated along press row that planned to interview the three Lakers superstars at center court after the victory.
When Jones found this plan and showed it to Russell, the angry and proud center scrapped his pre-game strategy and told the Celtics to run the younger Lakers.
With surprised Los Angeles on its heels and feeling the pressure to win (something it had never done in LA), Boston raced to a 91-76 lead heading to the dramatic final period. But West, playing with a strained hamstring, led a late Laker rally.
Adding to the high drama was the fact that ancient foes Chamberlain, who never fouled out of an NBA game, and Russell were each playing with five fouls in their final head-to-head battle after a decade of memorable mano a mano duels.
But then Wilt came down awkwardly with a rebound and twisted his knee midway through the final stanza. He took himself out of the game, and former Celtic backup center Mel Counts replaced him. Yet with the Big Dipper agonizing on the bench, the Lakers continued to slice into the lead until it was down to a basket.
A tying Counts foul line jumper on the secondary break was disallowed for traveling. West and Baylor each missed outside jumpers. Havlicek, a blur running through the paint, anticipated and stole a Keith Erickson pass intended for a cutting Baylor.
Wilt asked to come back in the game, but in a controversial decision, Lakers coach Butch Van Breda Jolff refused to put him back in, saying they were playing better with him on the bench.
Russell then stuffed an ill-advised reverse layup try by his former backup. Four times LA had a chance to tie but each time they came up short.
Celtic guard Larry Siegfried, a two-time NBA foul shooting champion, canned three clutch late free throws, yet Boston was just hanging on in the final minute when the luck of the Irish once again intervened.
As Havlicek dribbled out of the corner, Erickson poked the ball away from behind with a well-placed swipe. But instead of a steal, his pokeaway slap traveled almost 15 feet through the air on a line right to former Laker castoff Don Nelson at the free throw stripe.
Erickson’s fateful poke-slap could have been an assist had he been a Celtic, so perfectly did the ball sail to the open Nellie.
The good-shooting Celtic reserve launched a 15-footer that hit the back of the iron and bounced straight up into the air almost a foot higher than the top of the backboard.
As everyone jockeyed for board position and watched the carom with great anxiety, the ball then came straight back down cleanly through the net to give Boston a four-point lead. The fortuitous shot proved to be the last Celtics basket of the season, as well as the death knell for the Lakers comeback effort.
So close again, yet so far away for Los Angeles, West, Baylor and Wilt.
Boston held on for an epic 108-106 win as Russell and Jones went out on top one last time before a stunned Forum crowd and a national TV audience on ABC that expected to see the long-suffering Lakers end the Celtics dynasty.
West recorded a triple-double with 42 points, 13 rebounds, and a dozen assists. Over the classic series he averaged a whopping 37.9 ppg and was voted the Finals MVP. More than 50 years later, it is still the only time a player from the runner-up squad earned Most Valuable Player, but he would have traded the honor for the title that had eluded him against his rival. He lost three times in close Game 7’s at the hands of Boston.
The superstar of the Celtics was Havlicek. He topped the better-balanced Boston in the 1969 finale with 26 points. Jones scored 24 before fouling out on a West head fake late in the game. Unsung veteran guard Em Bryant added 20 markers and Nelson contributed 16 off the bench. Russell also pulled down 21 boards and scored six points in his victorious swansong.
Chamberlain grabbed 27 rebounds and scored 18 points (including just 4-13 foul shooting), but was criticized later by Russell for coming out of the game with the knee injury.
On a post-season retirement speaking tour Russ said that anything less than a broken leg was not good enough to sub out for in a championship game, and this infamous comment caused a long rift between the two giants.
It was the least expected championship in the fabulously successful Russell era. To win the 1969 crown, the Celtics defeated their three greatest traditional rivals in succession: Philly (4-1), New York (4-2), and Los Angeles (4-3), each of whom had better records than Boston that season.
Years later, West, who admits that most of the times the Lakers lost to Boston that the Celtics were simply better, still insists that 1969 was the one year that LA was definitely the superior team and should have won. They still had to put up with Auerbach’s victory cigar and Russell’s trademark cackle one last time to cap a nine-title decade of Boston dominance.
2) 1957: Boston 125, St. Louis 123 (2OT)
Few people realize that the first great Celtics’ Finals rivalry was against the St. Louis Hawks, not the Lakers. From 1957 through 1961, the foes met four times in the championship series, with Boston winning three of the showdowns.
All three Hawk wins in the series (in Games 1, 3, and 6) came by a mere two points apiece. Game 7 in the Garden was tied 103-103 at the end of regulation and 113-113 after the first OT. In an incredible coincidence, the first and seventh games of the initial Celtics championship series each ended up 125-123 in DOUBLE OVERTIME!
The first meeting was the most dramatic as rookies Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn teamed with All-Star guards Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman to lead Boston against all-time great power forward Bob Pettit and former Celtics Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.
Boston led 125-123 in the final seconds when the Hawks, having to go the length of the court on an in-bounds pass, drew up an ingenious last-ditch play that put the 1992 Grant-Hill-to-Christian-Laettner Duke NCAA tournament buzzer-beater to shame.
The Hawks devised a play whereby the passer would throw the ball 94 feet off the backboard on purpose, with Pettit to grab the carom and try to follow the carom in for a tie. Remember: the NBA did not adopt the three-point shot until much later in the 1979-80 season.
The original ploy cleverly played into the notion that players tend to follow the ball on such a long pass and thus not expect a rebound off the backboard, as well as its novelty.
Amazingly, the play worked to perfection as Jack Coleman’s long pass ricocheted off the glass and Pettit grabbed it cleanly. The underrated Hawk superstar, who retired in 1965 as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, took the ricochet and shot from mid-lane in the same motion. His attempt hung on the rim before falling off at the horn to give Boston its very first of 17 banners.
Pettit, described by some as an earlier and slightly bigger version of Celtic great Dave Cowens, scored 39 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the classic contest.
In the early 1960’s, none other than Russell called Pettit the best player because he made everyone else better, in addition to being a great individual player.
Rookie of the Year Heinsohn poured in 37 points and snared 23 rebounds to lead Boston to the 125-123 victory that set the blueprint for many Celtics Game 7 nail-biting wins to come.
Russell, who missed the first half of his first pro campaign winning gold for America at the Olympics in Australia, yanked down 32 caroms and scored 19 points. Six Celtics and four Hawks eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.
3) 1984: Boston 111, Los Angeles 102
In the long-awaited first Finals showdown between arch-rivals Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson since their 1979 NCAA title meeting, this Game 7 thriller capped arguably the greatest championship series ever.
Los Angeles was close to taking a 2-0 lead with 16 seconds left in Game 2 at the Garden when Gerald Henderson stole a floating James Worthy pass and made a layup to tie the score. Then in the first of many series gaffes, Magic then inexplicably dribbled the clock out to help force overtime.
In OT, Scott Wedman buried his patented left baseline jumper over a flailing Johnson to give Boston a 122-121 lead in the final seconds. Two Bird free throws clinched it seconds later and tied the Finals 1-1.
After a Game 3 blowout in LA, Boston trailed 2-1. But in Game 4, an angry Bird tallied 29 points with 21 rebounds to lead Boston to a series-tying victory. With the score tied 123-123 in the final minute of overtime, Johnson missed two free throws. After a Celtics rebound and timeout, he then picked up Larry on a switch when defensive ace Michael Cooper fell to the floor trying to keep the determined Bird from getting the ball. Bird went straight into the left mid-post and swished a game-winning 13-foot fadeaway over nemesis Johnson to clinch a fierce fourth game at the Forum.
The contentious battle featured several altercations, including a McHale clothesline of Kurt Rambis, an elbow to the cheek of Bird by Karem Abdul-Jabbar followed by a nose-to-nose argument between the two superstar #33’s.
In the 97-degree heat of the infamous Sauna Game back in Boston a few days later, Bird had the best Finals game of his career. He sank 15 of 20 shots en route to 34 points and a game-high 17 rebounds as the Celtics took their first lead of the series 3-2.
LA rallied to stave off defeat in Game 6 back home to force a final game back in venerable Boston Garden. Before a record TV audience, the Celtics built s 15-point lead in the fourth period before LA put on a last-ditch rally. But with the Lakers down three in the final minute, Johnson’s drive was stuffed by McHale and Parish for his second egregious turnover in three possessions. Dennis Johnson was fouled driving for a layup and canned both free throws to make it 107-102. Bird sank four consecutive foul shots in the final seconds to provide the finishing touch. Jubilant fans streamed onto the parquet floor to punctuate an epic Finals win.
Clutch Celtic forward Cedric Maxwell scored 24 points, grabbed eight boards, and dished out eight assists to pace the victors. DJ sank all 12 of his foul shots and scored 22.
Max and M.L. Carr openly taunted Johnson in the final seconds by mimicking his celebratory habits. McHale nicknamed him “Tragic” Johnson for his many late-game series miscues.
Boston crushed LA 52-33 on the boards, pulling down a whopping 20 offensive caroms against the weak defensive-rebounding Lakers. Jabbar scored 29 points but only pulled in six rebounds, while Johnson missed nine of 14 shots and committed seven of the seventeen LA turnovers.
Bird netted 20 points and grabbed a dozen rebounds to clinch his second NBA title and first Finals MVP award. The Hick from French Lick averaged 27 points and 14 caroms a game in the epic series.
In the happy Celtics locker room afterward, CBS commentator Brent Musburger asked Larry the big question: did this win get him even with Johnson after the 1979 NCAA title game defeat five long years earlier?
His blonde mane slick with sweat and beer, the typically evasive Bird initially deflected the query, even in his finest moment. “No, we’re professionals now...but I won this one for Terre Haute,” his hometown in Indiana.
But several hours later deep into the night-long celebration, Bird confided his true feelings in private to his teammate and friend, Celtic backup guard Quinn Buckner. “I finally got him,” he said.
At the time, it evened their professional rivalry at two titles apiece, with Bird winning his first of three regular season and two Finals MVP awards in 1984. The two rivals up to that time were not friendly at all. But when Johnson came to French Lick in the off-season to film a TV commercial, the fierce foes hit it off and became friends to this day.
4) 1962: Boston 110, Los Angeles 107 (OT)
This marked the first of six Finals showdown between Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1960’s.
The Celtics trailed 2-1 after Jerry West’s steal and layup at the buzzer won Game 3 117-115. LA edged ahead 3-2 when Elgin Baylor poured in a still-Finals record 61 points in a game 5 victory at Boston.
But Boston evened the series 3-3 and forced their third Finals Game 7 in six years with a 14-point win at LA in the sixth contest. The decisive game was very close throughout, and was tied 100-100 in the final seconds.
Lakers guard Hot Rod Hundley did not go to Baylor or West for the last shot, instead spying an open Frank Selvy on the left wing for a 16-footer to win the crown.
A mad scramble by Cousy may have bothered the normally sharpshooting Selvy, whose shot was on line but short. Russell grabbed one of his 40 rebounds at the buzzer to preserve the tie.
In OT, Boston prevailed 10-7 and the die was cast for future Celtics close Finals wins over the tormented Lakers. Baylor tossed in 41 points with 22 rebounds, while West tallied 35 for LA.
Russell added 30 points to go with his incredible board work. Clutch Sam Jones poured in 27 points while Ramsey netted 23 off the bench. The Celtics won the battle of the boards 82-65 to overcome 33 percent field goal shooting.
Boston would repeat over the Lakers in 1963 by a 4-2 count in Cousy’s swansong, the first of three separate back-to-back Finals wins over LA in the decade.
For years later, the mischievous Hundley would call Selvy long distance and when he answered, simply say, “nice shot, Frank,” and then hang up. A haunted West wistfully noted years later that had the Selvy last-second shot fallen, perhaps the decade and the rivalry with Boston might have gone differently. But of course, it did not.
5) 1974: Boston 102, Milwaukee 87.
Five years after Russell retired, the Celtics won their first NBA crown without the goateed great.
In an unusual series, the road team won five of the seven games. Boston won Games 1, 3, and 5. Milwaukee took Game 2 in overtime and stayed alive with an epic overtime win in Game 6 at Boston 102-101 on a long, last-ditch running hook from the right baseline by Jabbar. His winning shot spoiled a 36-point performance by Havlicek, including a Finals-record nine in overtime.
Boston would have to win the title on the road in Milwaukee. Coach Tom Heinsohn implemented a double-teaming strategy to slow down the 7’2 Jabbar, giving 6’8 center Dave Cowens help on slowing down the big man.
Freed from guarding Jabbar alone, the redhead poured in 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Heinsohn also directed the Celtic guards to pressure 35-year old Oscar Robertson in his final game.
Defensive ace Don Chaney got into foul trouble harassing the Big O, but second-year reserve guard Paul Westphal filled in admirably by scoring a dozen points and continued to hassle a frustrated Robertson into a 2-for-13 shooting night. Two three-point plays in the fourth quarter by Hondo clinched the victory.
6) 1966: Boston 95, Los Angeles 93
In what was franchise patriarch Red Auerbach’s final season as Boston head coach, the Celtics sought a record eighth straight league championship.
Boston ran out to a 3-1 series lead and appeared poised to post a second straight 4-1 Finals win over LA, but the Lakers rallied to win Games 5 and 6 as Baylor averaged 33 and West 31.5 ppg to set up another seventh game showdown on the parquet floor.
The Celtics ran out to a 76-60 lead heading to the final period and led by double figures late. As Auerbach lit up his trademark final cigar, West led a late Laker rally with 36 points.
But the Celtics held on for a two-point win. Russell pulled down 32 rebounds and scored 25 points. A young Havlicek contributed 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Jones tossed in 22 points.
Boston out-rebounded LA 70-54 and their defense limited the great Baylor to just 6-of-22 shooting.
7) 1960: Boston 122, St. Louis 103
In a finale that lacked the epic drama of the 1957 seventh game, Boston outscored the Hawks 41-23 in the decisive second stanza and held on for a lopsided 122-103 victory at the Garden.
Russell pulled down 35 rebounds and scored 22 points. Super sixth man Frank Ramsey led six Celtics in double figures with 24 points and added 13 rebounds. Bob Cousy contributed 19 points and 14 assists.
Eastern Conference Finals Game 7’s (5-3)
1) 1981: Boston 91, Philadelphia 90
The Celtics capped off a historic rally from down 1-3 with three straight wins over the rival 76ers by a combined total of five points.
All three games were rollercoaster affairs, fiercely fought and came down to the final second. In Game 5, M.L. Carr hit two late foul shots to win 111-109. Boston then snapped an 11-game losing streak at the Spectrum with a 100-98 victory inspired by a Cedric Maxwell third period fight with a Philly fan.
Rookie Kevin McHale preserved the win by blocking a shot by Andrew Toney and securing the rebound in the final seconds with the Celts clinging to a 99-98 edge.
Then in a raucous Garden for Game 7, Boston trailed the 76ers by seven at halftime and 75-71 heading to the fateful final quarter.
With frantic defense led by Bird, the Celtics held Philly to one point over the final five-plus minutes to rally from a late 89-82 deficit.
Bird banked in a pull-up 15-footer to break the final tie and give the Celtics a 91-89 lead in the final minute. After Maurice Cheeks split two foul shots, the Sixers had one last chance to win with a second to go, but a half court in-bounds alley-oop pass from Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to Julius Erving sailed too high off the top of the backboard. Maxwell batted the loose ball out of bounds and pandemonium ensued as the fans stormed the court.
Bird and Erving each scored 23 points, but Dr. J made two crucial turnovers down the final stretch. Larry added eleven rebounds, five assists, and five steals as he cemented his reputation as a top clutch player.
In my lifetime this ranks as the best Celtics Game 7 win ever. The intensity and quality of play between two hated foes was incredibly high. The comeback win capped only the fourth 1-3 rally to win a series in the NBA’s 35th season.
The win paved the way for their 14th title banner as they defeated Houston 4-2 in the 1981 Finals.
2) 1987: Boston 117, Detroit 114
This classic battle between the young Pistons and a beat up, veteran Celtics team was another epic masterpiece. Boston’s greater skill and experience won out over the aggressive defense, depth, health, and youth of the plucky Pistons.
Detroit’s Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson smashed heads diving for a loose ball in the second half. Still, Detroit hung close. However, one possession encapsulated Boston’s refusal to lose. In one possession the Celtics missed five shots but hustled up an offensive rebound EACH TIME - despite being supposedly less athletic and all but dead.
Bird eventually penetrated slightly, drew the Detroit defense and dished to an open Danny Ainge on the left wing. Ainge drained a backbreaking three-pointer to punctuate the epic possession that took over a minute off the clock late in the fourth period.
Piston star Isiah Thomas called it the key play of the series. He said that if Boston had not scored there and Detroit had gone down and taken the lead, they probably would have won the series and their first Eastern Conference championship.
After Boston built a six-point lead in the final minute and it seemed to be over, Dennis Johnson committed two puzzling intentional fouls in the back court. Courtside, CBS analyst Tom Heinsohn said, “I hope his chronic fatigue isn’t affecting his brain.”
The silly fouls saved Detroit not only time on the clock getting the ball up court, but also gave them easy points. After one foul, the Pistons made the first free throw yet missed the second, but John Salley rebounded the misfire and dunked it in for a three-point possession.
Ainge had to bury two clutch free throws in the final seconds after Thomas ran full tilt into his exposed back to clinch it, making a last-second triple by Joe Dumars merely a cosmetic improvement to the Detroit loss.
Celtic head coach K.C. Jones took the blame for DJ’s nearly disastrous fouls. But even though there may have been missed communications from the bench on when, where, and if to foul, a smart player like Dennis should have known better, especially after the first foul was roundly critiqued by the Garden fans. At the very least, he should have waited until Detroit had taken more time off the dwindling clock getting the ball over the midcourt line instead of fouling good shooters 70 feet from the basket. Over 30 years later, the puzzling fouls were still an unexplained head-scratcher on an NBATV Film Room episode revisiting the classic game. Celtics great Kevin McHale was at a loss and/or unwilling to criticize the deceased DJ’s actions as a guest commentator on the show.
Bird scored 37 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and passed out nine assists in the win. In the final three games of that fierce series, Bird averaged 36 points a game. He shot 39-for-69 from the field as well as a PERFECT 29-for-29 from the foul line under intense pressure. He averaged 27.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 7.6 assists a game for the series. He shot 49 percent from the field and 94 percent (47-50) from the foul line.
Thomas shot just 10 for 28 over 34 minutes in Game 7, while Bird made 13-of-24 from the field and canned all ten of his foul shots while playing all 48 minutes.
Thomas and Dennis Rodman had the gall to say reigning three-time MVP Bird was overrated because he was white after the loss. Isiah offered that Boston had “no chance” to beat the Lakers and his then-buddy Earvin Johnson in the Finals. Boston assistant Chris Ford (a former Pistons and Celtics guard) fired back “that at least we get the chance to.”
3) 1965: Boston 110, Philadelphia 109
The “Havlicek stole the ball” game as immortalized by the radio call of Celtics broadcast legend Johnny Most.
The 76ers had been recently reborn when the Syracuse Nationals franchise moved to Philly to take the place of the Warriors, who moved to San Francisco after the 1962 season. Renamed the 76ers, they acquired hometown hero Wilt Chamberlain from the Warriors and became an instant threat to the Celtics in the East.
Also featuring stars like Hal Greer, Chet Walker, and Billy Cunningham, the 76ers would eventually end the Celtic run of titles at eight in 1967. The rivals met in four straight Eastern finals from 1965-68, with Boston winning three times.
But the first series almost went to the Sixers when they rallied late in Game 7. After a Chamberlain dunk for his 30th point cut the lead to one, Russell’s ensuing in-bounds pass hit a wire and ricocheted out of bounds to give the visitors a last chance to win the series and upset the Celtics at Boston Garden.
In the timeout huddle after the turnover, Russell asked for someone to get the goat horns off of him. As Russ denied Wilt the in-bounds pass from Greer under the basket, Havlicek was counting down the seconds on the perimeter. When he reached four, the Celtics swingman took a peek over his left shoulder and saw a pass heading to Walker. He reacted quickly and stole the pass, redirecting it to Sam Jones. Sam dribbled up the left sideline to run out the clock as the fans rushed the parquet floor.
In the middle of the maelstrom on the court, a relieved Russell hugged Havlicek as Auerbach celebrated. Boston went on to beat the Lakers 4-1 in the Finals for their seventh consecutive championship.
Chamberlain totaled 30 points and 32 rebounds while Russell countered with 29 boards and 15 points. Sam Jones poured in 37 points and Havlicek contributed 26 markers with 11 caroms.
Dave Gambee supported Wilt with 25 points while Walker added 24.
4) 1968: Boston 100, Philadelphia 96
The defending champion 76ers were on the verge of a repeat as they threatened to blow up the Celtics dynasty. Philly fans paraded bedsheet signs with “Boston is Dead” written on them. The 76ers had beaten Boston 4-1 in the 1967 Eastern Conference Finals to finally supplant the Celtics. They went on to defeat the Warriors and Rick Barry 4-2 in a tough Finals. The next season they finished eight games ahead of Boston in the regular campaign. The Celtics took Game 1 of the series in their fourth straight Eastern Conference Finals showdown.
But after a five-day delay due to the assassination of Martin Luther King, the 76ers ran off three straight wins by nine, eight, and five points to grab a commanding 3-1 lead, but the proud Boston team refused to go down easily.
They won Game 5 by 18 on the road, then evened the series 3-3 with a 114-106 victory at home. For the first time in the Russell era, Gang Green had to go on the road to win a seventh game.
Before 15,202 in the brand-new Spectrum, the Celtics carefully built a 46-40 halftime lead. Philly inched within 73-69 after three quarters, but could not cut further into the small Boston lead.
Playing without the injured Cunningham, paralyzed Wilt did not make a second half basket and took only two shots. The Celtics held on for a tense 100-96 victory to detonate the burgeoning 76ers dynasty.
Jones and Hondo led Boston with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Russell yanked down 26 boards and held Wilt to just 14 points. Chamberlain did pull in 34 caroms but made just four of nine field goal tries and six of 15 free throws. The Celtic defense limited the defending champs to just 35 percent shooting.
The Sixers would not win another title for 15 years, and Wilt was traded to the Lakers after the 1968 playoffs.
Boston then went on to beat Los Angeles 4-2 in the Finals to grab their 10th title.
5) 1962: Boston 109, Philadelphia Warriors 107
In their final series as the Philadelphia Warriors before they moved to San Francisco, Russell and Chamberlain butted heads in their first Game 7 showdown.
This was Wilt’s record-setting 50.4 point, 25-rebound a game season under coach Frank McGuire. Ironically, it was McGuire’s 32-0 North Carolina team that beat Wilt and Kansas by a single point in the 1957 NCAA title game in triple overtime.
In this game, Russ held the Big Dipper to 22 points (the notoriously bad foul shooter actually sank eight of nine free throws) and 22 boards. Russell all but matched Wilt with 19 points and 22 caroms.
Boston led 34-23 after one period of play, but the Warriors rallied to lead 56-52 at intermission. Yet Boston outscored the visitors 57-51 in the second half to win by two points.
Hall of Famer Paul Arizin tallied 19 points in his final game. Sam Jones topped Boston with 28 markers.
6) 1959: Boston 130, Syracuse 125
The predecessor of the 76ers franchise was the Syracuse Nationals, led by Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes. The Celtics and Nats enjoyed several playoff battles in the 1950’s.
In 1959, the teams alternated wins in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Boston taking Games 1, 3, 5, and eventually 7.
In this seventh game battle, the Celtics rallied at home to win with a 70-57 second half.
Schayes scored 35 points, grabbed 16 boards, and passed out nine assists. Fellow Hall of Fame forward George Yardley added 32 points and 10 caroms.
But sixth man extraordinaire Frank Ramsey led seven Celtics in double figures with 28 points. Bob Cousy scored 25 points and dealt 10 assists while Russell grabbed 32 rebounds and tallied 18 points.
The Celtics then went on to sweep the Minneapolis Lakers 4-0 in the Finals. It was the first of twelve Finals meetings between the rivals, and the Lakers moved to Los Angeles the next season.
Eastern Conference Semis Game 7’s (7-3):
1) 1988: Boston 118, Atlanta 116
This classic contest is known for the epic fourth quarter shootout between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins.
Bird made nine of his 10 fourth quarter shots, with his only miss from the top of the key rimming in and out. He sank a free throw and one key triple for 20 points in the period.
Larry added to his legend by making an 11-foot left-handed shot in the lane, a stumbling lefty three-point play that he threw up into the air and banked in, and several outside jumpers.
The one time he missed, Bird made up for it by stealing a post entry pass. He then sprinted up the left sideline, received a long pass and swished a leaning 13-footer on the left baseline.
Wilkins matched Bird shot for shot until late in the period. “It’s a duel, put down your saber,” bellowed Heinsohn from his CBS analyst perch courtside. “By now, both players have their game grooved.”
Larry then buried a left wing trifecta from in front of the Hawk bench for a 112-105 lead. The Garden shook as it had not since a year before when Bird stole Isiah’s in-bounds pass to rescue Game 5 in the 1987 eastern finals vs. Detroit.
After the Hawks pulled within three, Bird posted up Wilkins on the right wing. When he finally received the ball after jockeying hard for position, Bird blew past Wilkins with an escape dribble and penetrated the lane.
Seven-footer Kevin Willis loomed but Larry lofted a lefty shot over his outstretched arms and into the basket for the clincher.
As Bird led the Celtics to the bench after a timeout, Brent Musburger accurately said, “you are watching what greatness is all about.” This quote has been used as a voice-over to many other videos for other players, but it was actually said for Bird’s Game 7 heroics in the 1988 shootout.
However, just as in Game 7 vs. the Pistons the year before, Boston had to duck a last-ditch rally when it appeared the game was over. Ainge missed a fast break layup but got a reprieve when future Celtics coach Doc Rivers was called for a controversial goaltend after slapping the backboard when the ball was on the rim.
Yet Atlanta kept coming and DJ missed two of four free throws in the final seconds to keep the Hawks barely alive, down 118-115. As Wilkins sped up court for a potential tying triple, Ainge wisely grabbed and fouled him with a second left before he could even attempt a shot. Dominique made the first shot and missed the second on purpose, but Boston came up with the loose ball as time expired on another Garden party seventh game classic.
McHale said later that it “was as pure an exhibition of basketball as you will ever see.” DJ called it as good a battle between two small forwards as has ever taken place.
As Bird said later, “we were both in the zone.” Larry ended up with 34 points on 15-of-24 shooting, and Wilkins netted 47 on 19-of-33 accuracy.
McHale added 33 points (10-14 FGs, 13-13 FTs) and 14 boards plus four blocks. Underrated Hawk shooting guard Randy Wittman, an Indiana native like Bird, drained 11-of-13 outside shots for 22 points.
Both teams executed so well on offense that Boston shot 61 percent from the field (and 25-of-28 at the foul line) and Atlanta made 58 percent of its field tries (and 11-of-12 free throws). The shooting was so good by both teams that there were only 59 rebounds total in the contest.
2) 1987: Boston 119, Milwaukee 113
With the defending champs battered an bruised by injuries, the Celtics almost blew a 3-1 lead for the first and only time in their fabled history.
Bird’s three-pointer clinched a 138-137 double overtime epic in Game 4 at Milwaukee to give the Celtics a seemingly commanding 3-1 bulge. Larry scored 42 points and McHale tossed in 34 to offset 31 by Terry Cummings.
“It was a real good playoff game, the kind you remember,” Bird said.
But the Bucks, coached by Don Nelson in his last of eleven seasons at the helm, refused to go easily. They upset Boston in Game 5 at the Garden and then evened the series with a sixth game victory at home as Sidney Moncrief poured in 67 points in the two wins.
Ainge sprained his knee in a collision late in the second quarter to add to the Celtic woes. It appeared that the Bucks were going to pull off the upset when they led 112-105 with about five minutes left.
But then sharpshooting reserve guard Jerry Sichting, in place of Ainge, drained two clutch 18-footers to get Boston going. Much like Game 7 vs. the 76ers in 1981, the Celtic defense rose up and stifled the Bucks down the stretch, holding them to just a point and no baskets.
Bird buried an 18-footer and then Parish, hobbled by two sprained ankles, blocked a Jack Sikma baseline jumper. As the ball bounced toward the Buck bench, DJ leaped over a chair and bounced it out of bounds off former 1979 Seattle NBA title teammate Sikma as he crashed into the stands.
Larry then swished four consecutive free throws to put the fading Bucks away. When John Lucas missed a corner triple Bird fittingly grabbed the rebound at the buzzer.
Boston dominated the boards 57-27 as the injured Parish valiantly grabbed 19 caroms. The Celtics yanked down 25 offensive boards to dominate the smaller Bucks.
Bird scored 31 points and sank all 13 of his free throws to go with 10 rebounds and eight assists. McHale, also hampered by a broken bone in one foot and a sprain on the other, tallied 26 points and grabbed 15 caroms. Parish also scored 23 points and blocked four shots.
It was one of, if not the best, conference semifinal series in Celtic history. Bird averaged 29.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Sikma made all 35 of the free throws he took in the seven-game thriller.
Nelson ended up leaving Milwaukee to take the Warriors job where he continued his small-ball style of play with the Mullin/Hardaway/Richmond teams, a quarter century before the champion Warriors of this past decade.
3) Boston 142, Cincinnati 131
Led by Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Jack Twyman, the Royals threatened to end the Celtics’ string of four straight NBA crowns.
Boston led 68-64 at halftime of this high-scoring battle. But then Boston blew it open with a 40-29 third quarter outburst and held on to win by 11.
Robertson hit 21-of-22 free throws en route to 43 points and a 33.4 ppg series average. But Sam Jones, gaining a reputation for clutch shooting, fired in 47 points on 18-27 field goal accuracy and 11-12 foul shooting. Heinsohn tossed in 31 points while Russell added 20 with 24 boards. In his final season, the great Cooz contributed 21 points and 16 assists.
4) 2008: Boston 97, Cleveland 92
After running roughshod over the NBA with a 66-16 record in 2007-08, the Celtics had to struggle through two seven-game series in the opening rounds of the playoffs.
After beating upset-minded Atlanta 4-3 in Round One, the Celtics took on a young LeBron James and Cleveland in Round Two. Neither team scored more than 97 points in any game of the low-scoring series as the home team won all seven games.
In Game 7 at the new TD Bank Garden, Boston led 18-13 after a low-scoring first period and stretched it to a 50-40 margin at halftime.
The Cavaliers pulled within five in the fourth quarter as James poured in 45 points, but the Celtics held on for a 97-92 victory. Paul Pierce negated James with 41 points on 13-23 field goal shooting (plus 4-of-6 on threes and 11-of-12 at the foul line).
Kevin Garnett hauled in 13 boards as Boston won the glass battle, 39-29.
5) 1984: Boston 121, New York 104.
In this lopsided seven-game series, the eventual champion Celtics won their four home games by an average of 17.3 points and lost three games at Madison Square Garden by five ppg.
The series was billed as a showdown between leading MVP candidates Larry Bird and Bernard King.
New York escaped with a 106-104 win in Game 6 at MSG, a contest marred by physical play. After Boston won the first two games easily, Knick coach Hubie Brown institiuted a no-layup, hard foul policy.
McHale was taken down by Ernie Grunfeld, and got into a fracas with King in Game 6. Bird was brutally tackled from behind on a breakaway layup by Ray Williams as he was also slugged by Rory Sparrow, who was ejected.
A bloodied but non-complaining Bird got up and made both free throws, but a last-second shot banked off the rim at the horn to force a decider at Boston Garden. King scored 44 and Bird 35 in the Game 6 battle.
But in Game 7 at a raucous Garden, it was Bird and Boston in a blowout. The Celtics raced to a 67-52 halftime lead as Larry came out firing from all angles.
Boston was never threatened in the second half as they cruised to a 17-point win over the rival Knicks. Bird left no doubt as to who was the MVP with a 39-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist tour de force. He connected on 13 of 24 shots, one triple, and sank all 12 of his free throws as he blew King (24-6-5) away.
Toughened by this series, Boston whipped Milwaukee 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals and then beat the Lakers in a historic Finals, 4-3.
6) 2012: Boston 85, Philadelphia 75
In their first seven-game series since 1982 three decades earlier, the ancient Eastern foes hooked up in a defensive battle.
Boston finished 39-27 in the lockout-shortened season, good for first in the Atlantic Division. The 76ers, coached by former Philly All-Star guard Doug Collins, finished 35-31.
The rivals battled through the first games alternating wins. Philly forced Game 7 in Boston with an 82-75 slugfest victory in the sixth game at home.
The Celtics broke open a tight battle with a 21-13 second period and held on to win by 10 as they canned 20-of-22 foul shots. KG led the way with 18 points and 13 boards while Rajon Rondo contributed an 18-10-10 triple-double.
Andre Iguodala, the other 76ers’ AI, led Philly with 18 points. The 76ers never scored more than 92 points in any game of the series, and averaged just 85.4 ppg over the seven games.
Boston then lost a seven-game battle to eventual champion Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, dropping a 101-88 decision in the finale.
7) 2017: Boston 115, Washington 105
It was another series where the home team won all seven contests. Washington forced Game 7 with a 92-91 squeaker win in the sixth contest at home when John Wall sank a three-pointer in the final seconds.
Boston outscored the Wizards 62-50 after halftime to take Game 7 by 10 points. Bradley Beal fired in 38 points to pace the losers, but Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 29 and Kelly Olynyk came off the bench for the best game of his Celtics career.
The Canadian-born seven-footer from Gonzaga canned 10 of 14 shots, including two triples, as he poured in 26 points to spearhead the victory.
The Cleveland eliminated Boston 4-1 in the conference finals before losing to Golden State in the championship series.
East quarterfinal Game 7’s (3-1)
1) 2009: Boston 109, Chicago 99
Boston posted a 62-20 record as defending champions but came into the playoffs hampered by a Garnett knee injury that sidelined him.
This epic series is proabbly the best first round best of seven series in NBA history. Five of the seven games went down to the final shot, and four of the contests went into overtime, including three in a row.
Chicago outlasted Boston 128-127 in a triple overtime thriller in game 6 to even the series and force it back to Beantown for the decider.
Before that, Boston won Game 5 in merely one OT while the Bulls took Game 4 in double OT.
The teams were all but worn out by the time the final game came around. While most expected a fourth consecutive overtime battle or at least a last-second finish, Boston took control with an epic second period and held on to win by 10.
The Celtics outscored Chicago 29-11 in the second stanza, throttling the Bull offense as they grabbed a 52-39 halftime lead.
The tough Boston defense, the calling card of that team, held Chicago to just 39 percent field goal shooting.
Ray Allen scored 23 and Pierce added 20 for Boston. Kendrick Perkins contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds. Ben Gordon topped the bulls with 33 points.
Allen averaged 23.4 ppg and Pierce 23.1 in the classic series win.
However, the battle took a lot out of the short-handed Celtics. They lost 4-3 to the eventual Eastern Conference champs Orlando in the second round.
2) 2008: Boston 99, Atlanta 65
In a strange first round series, the home teams split the first six games. The Celtics whipped the underdog Hawks by 23 ppg in their wins, while Atlanta earned its three victories by a combined total of 17 points.
With all the pressure on Boston as the upstart Hawks attempted to end the championship favorite Celtics run in the first round, the home team responded. Atlanta had finished the season with just 37 wins, 29 games behind Boston, but proved to be a formidable foe in the first round.
Boston’s suffocating defense limited the Hawks to just 26 first half points as they built an 18-point cushion. The Celtics put the Hawks away with a 35-17 third quarter burst.
Pierce led Boston with 22 points while KG added 18 markers and 11 caroms. The Celtics limited Atlanta to just 29 percent shooting and a playoff-low 65 points in a seventh game in the 24-second era.
3) 2017: Boston 112, Milwaukee 96
In a first round battle the home team won all seven games as the Bucks and Celtics renewed their playoff rivalry for the first time since the epic 1987 second round seven-game thriller. This one also went seven but lacked the drama and star power of the 1987 showdown.
Boston raced to a 30-17 lead after one period and maintained a double-digit lead most of the way to post a 16-point win. Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 32 points while a young Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22. But 26 points apiece from Al Horford (13-of-17 FGs) and Terry Rozier, plus 20 from then rookie Jayson Tatum, more than offset the Bucks. Boston also out-rebounded the Bucks, 42-32.
If push came to shove, I would rank the 91-90 win over the arch-rival 76ers in the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals as the best game seven I have seen live.
Having only seen clips of the other epic seventh Finals games vs. the Lakers and Hawks (other than 1984), it is hard for me to rate anything above that masterpiece battle between Bird and Erving as the third Celtic dynasty earned its spurs.
To contact the author directly, you can email Cort Reynolds at email@example.com.