Yes, John Havlicek stole the ball at the most opportune time to end the 1965 Eastern Conference finals, but that is not the choice here for the best Celtics game. Instead, it’s another game in which Havlicek starred, one widely considered the greatest game in the history of the NBA: Game 5 of the 1976 Finals against the Suns, a 128-126 victory in triple overtime.
So much happened in this game that is part of Celtics and NBA lore — Havlicek’s go-ahead bank shot at the end of the second overtime, Suns forward Gar Heard’s banner-scraping turnaround jumper to tie it again, little-used Celtic Glenn McDonald’s heroics in double overtime. But as I watched this time-capsule of a game again, with no 3-point line, Don Nelson out there running around in too-short shorts with his dad-bod, the unadorned scorer’s table that looked like it belonged at a flea market, and color analyst Rick Barry’s baby-blue leisure suit with the shirt unbuttoned to the belly, I kept thinking about one particular crazy moment, and how this game would have been perceived in the age of social media.
I think this one might have broken Twitter, not necessarily a bad thing, with the happenings immediately after Havlicek’s late shot in the second overtime. The fans rushed the parquet, but official Richie Powers correctly determined that two seconds should remain on the clock. While the officials were trying to get the players back to the court and fans off of it, play-by-play voice Brent Musberger suddenly saw something that alarmed him.
“A fight with Richie Powers!’’ he yelled. “Richie Powers is in a fight with a fan! Right here in front! Referee Richie Powers was assaulted by a fan!”
Sure enough, the cameras caught a fan and Powers grappling and exchanging blows. It is unreal to witness, in this post-Malace at the Palace world, in part since the players and announcers moved past it so quickly. Powers did, too. It was almost like it wasn’t out of the ordinary. If that happened today, the fan would be banned for life and the think pieces and talk shows would be insufferable. Instead, the fans went back to the stands, and everyone got back to the game.
And it was the best game I’ve ever seen. It’s also the craziest. A ref got slugged, and it might not have even been the strangest thing about it. Did I mention Barry’s wardrobe?
Chad Finn’s top five Celtics games to watch
May 22, 1988
Larry outdueling ‘Nique gets the nod over The Truth vs. LeBron, Larry underneath to DJ, and Havlicek stealing the ball.
June 12, 2008
The never-quit Celtics rally from a 24-point deficit to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
May 3, 1981
Larry Legend wins it with a bank shot to complete a 3-1 comeback against their most contentious rival.
April 17, 1962
Guess how many rebounds Bill Russell had in Game 7? Nope, guess higher: 40.
June 5, 1976
Widely considered the greatest NBA game ever played.