Pandemonium on the parquet
Sandwiched between the Bill Russell-led Celtics dynasty of the 1960's and the original Big 3 reign of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale in the 1980's, were the championship teams of my youth in the 1970's that carved out their own identity in Boston sports history.
The Big Three of the '70's Celtics consisted of NBA Hall of Famers John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, along with deadly jump shot artist Jo Jo White. My favorite player was the lanky hot-shot Charlie Scott, who was acquired from Phoenix when the Celtics shipped guard Paul Westphal out west to the Suns to solidify Boston's backcourt.
While the 1973-74 Celtics team played in one of the greatest NBA Finals ever when they beat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games, my favorite championship moment came two years later, when the Celtics found themselves in the Finals facing the upstart Suns.
Led by the former Celtic Westphal, Alvan Adams, and team leader Dick Van Arsdale, the Cinderella Suns snuck into the playoffs with a 42-40 record during the 1975-76 season. The 54-28 high-flying, fast-breaking Celtics were led by Hondo (Havlicek), Big Red (Cowens), Scott, and future series MVP White.
The scene: Friday night, June 4, 1976, Boston Garden, Game 5 NBA Finals.
It's a game that still ranks as one of the greatest ever, as the Tommy Heinsohn-coached Celtics outlasted the Suns in triple overtime to win Game 5 of the NBA Finals at the old Boston Garden.
Big Game Brent Musburger did the play-by-play as I watched the game unfold on CBS. The Celtics jumped out to a 22-point lead early on, but the Suns would hang tough in the second half and the rode on the acrobatics and clutch shooting of Westphal to pull even with time winding down. Celtics forward Paul Silas signaled for a timeout with the clock winding down, but referee Richie Powers did not grant it and the game went into overtime. In overtime the game saw a couple of clock controversies, and key players fouled out. It was high drama time in Boston.
With five seconds left in the second overtime, the Celtics trailed 109-108 but had one more chance to win it. Musberger will take it from here: "Havlicek touches it, it begins, three seconds, Hondo off the glass AND HE'S GOT IT WITH A SECOND. John Havlicek won it, it's all over."
But while the fans rushed the floor thinking the C's won 110-109 in double OT, it turned out there were still two seconds on the clock when the shot went in. During the mayhem, the cameras turn to center court.
"A fight with Richie Powers, Richie Powers is in a fight with a fan," Musberger screams over our RCA XL-100 25-inch color TV. "... right here in front, referee Richie Powers was assaulted by a fan ... there are cops out in the middle ..." I've never seen a wilder scene at a sporting event to this day.
"A fan attacking an official to me is just unheard of," CBS analyst Mendy Rudolph said from the scene. "It's just unheard of."
"The security was not very good. I think (Celtics president) Red Auerbach planned it that way," Van Arsdale would go on to say later about the pandemonium on the parquet. "There were probably 300, 400 fans on the court."
Once order was returned somewhat, after a technical foul on the Suns, play would resume with one second left on the clock in double OT.
Enter Gar Heard and the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." It was a literal last-second turnaround jump shot from the top of the key, and Heard hit it clean to send Game 5 into overtime No. 3.
"Gar Heard turnaround shot in the air, it's good! It's tied again!. I DON'T BELIEVE IT," Musberger shouted. "Garfield Heard at the buzzer threw one in outside, we've got a third overtime at the Boston Garden, 112-112. Unbelievable sequence. First it was Havlicek, then it was Garfield Heard..."
Globe colleague Alan Miller was a ball boy for the Celtics at the Garden that night. "With one second left, I was instructed to get the ball and bring it to the locker room." Miller, who was positioned under the basket, said. "But then Heard's shot, which took forever to come down, went right through the net."
"It's a good thing it's Friday night," Musberger told the national television audience. "You kids don't have to go to school tomorrow. Ask your dad to get you another Coca-Cola."
The Celtics would out-battle the Suns in the third overtime with tough defense and closed out the epic playoff game with a two point victory.
"Goodbye from the Boston Garden where you have just watched the most incredible game in the history of the NBA," Musberger signed off after a true instant classic Game 5. "Boston 128, Phoenix 126, triple overtime!"
After the game, Heinsohn collapsed in the Celtics locker room and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he spent the rest of the night.
"I got dehydrated and just conked out," Heinsohn said later regarding the collapse. "You know, it was a pressure-packed ball game."
Little known fun fact: Future Lakers coach Pat Riley was a reserve on the Phoenix bench, but did not play in what was then the longest game in NBA history.
The Celtics would go on to knock out the wiped out Suns in Game 6 in Phoenix to win Championship No. 13, a title that would forever be remembered by that unbelievable Game 5 on a Friday night in Boston.