1976 NBA Championship Series – the Celtics and Suns


After a two year absence the Boston Celtics 54-28 still coached by Tommy Heinsohn returned to the NBA finals after dispatching the Buffalo Braves and Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. They were led by Dave Cowens 19.0 ppg 16.0 rpg, Jo Jo White 18.9 ppg 5.4 apg, Charlie Scott 17.6 ppg, John Havlicek 17.0 ppg and Paul Silas 12.7 rpg.

The upstart Phoenix Suns finished third in the Pacific division with a 42-40 record and defeated Seattle and defending champion Golden State to get to the finals.

They were coached by long time Phoenix coach John MacLeod and featured Paul Westphal 20.5 ppg 5.4 apg, Alvin Adams 19.0 ppg 5.6 apg 9.1 rpg, Curtis Perry 13.3 ppg 9.6 rpg, Dick Van Arsdale 12.7 ppg and Gar Heard 12.4 ppg 9.9 rpg.

The series opened in the Boston Gardens with the Celtics leading throughout most of the game and pulling out a 98-87 win behind Dave Cowen’s 25 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists with Jo Jo White adding 22 points.

The Suns’ leading scorer Paul Westphal was held to 4 of 17 from the field while Alvan Adams led Phoenix with 26 points.

Still in Boston the Celtics used a big third quarter to hold on for a 105-90 win as they outrebounded the Suns 60-44. Paul Westphal had a better game with 10 for 20 and 28 pointsand Alvan Adams had 19 points and 15 rebounds while sixth man John Havlicek scored 23 for Boston and Paul Silas pulled down 17 rebounds as the Celts go up 2-0.

Game three shifted to the first ever championship series game in Phoenix and the Suns responded with a 105-98 victory behind Alvan Adams 33 points and 14 rebounds with Westphal adding 22 points for the winners while John Havlicek was only 3 of 11 from the field and Jo Jo White led the Celtics with 24 points.DaveCowenshad 13 points and 17 rebounds as the series went to 2-1.

Game four in Phoenix was a tight game with a Ricky Sobers field goal making the difference for 109-107 win. Gar Heard had a big game for the Suns with 19 points and 15 rebounds while Paul Westphal added 28 and Alvan Adams 20 points.

Jo Jo White scored 25, Dave Cowens added 22 and Paul Silas had 14 rebounds for the Celtics.

This set up one of the most famous games in NBA history, the fifth game in the Boston Gardens. Boston led 36-18 after the first quarter and 61-45 at the half but Phoenix outscored the Celts in the third and fourth quarters and a John Havlicek free throw tied it at 95 all to force overtime.

At the end of the second overtime with Boston ahead 109-106 Dick Van Arsdale made a two pointer to bring the score to 109-108 and when the Celts inbounded the ball Westphal knocked it away from Havlicek and Curtis Perry made a field goal to put Phoenix ahead 110-109.

With six secondsleft Havlicek made a difficult field goal going down the lane to put Boson ahead as the buzzer sounded but after reviewing the play it wasdetermined two seconds wereleft in the game.

A technical was called on Westphal for calling timeout when they didn’t have one left and Jo Jo White made the free throw for a 112-110 Celtic lead with the Suns having the ball with two seconds left on the clock.

Curtis Perry inbounded to Gar Heard who turned and made a shot to tie the game and send it into a third overtime.

In that overtime the Celts went ahead by six points 128-122 and held on for a 128-126 win.

For Boston Jo Jo White finished with 33, Havlicek with 22 and Dave Cowens with 26 points and 19 rebounds and Paul Silas added 17 points and 14 rebounds.

For the Suns Westphal had 25, Curtis Perry 23 points and 15 rebounds, Ricky Sobers had 25 and Alvin Adams had 20 points.

After losing such an emotional game the Suns could not regroup at home and the Celtics, leading throughout most of the game pulled out an 87-80 win for their 13th NBA title with Dave Cowens leading the Celts with 21 points and 17 rebounds and Charlie Scott adding 25 points. Alvan Adams led the suns with 20 points and Ricky sobers added 19.

Jo Jo White got the MVP and Boston would return in 1981 in the Larry Bird era. Phoenix returned in 1993 against the Micheal Jordan led Chicago Bulls.

For the 35 year old John Havlicek playing in his 14th NBA season, although he would play two more seasons, it was his 8th and last NBA winning final. Always in the middle of every important play he had played 58 minutes in game five.


By Ron Griffitts

Contributing Columnist

Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate

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