With new coach Joe Mullaney the Los Angeles Lakers 46-36 returned to the finals. The team suffered from injuries as Wilt Chamberlain was out for all but 12 games and Elgin Baylor also missed several games.
They were led by Jerry West 31.2ppg, Baylor 24.0 ppg 10.4 rpg, and Happy Hairston 20.6 ppg 12.5 rpg. Chamberlain and Baylor were ready for the finals which would prove to be one of the more memorable in NBA history.
The Knicks 60-22 were coached by Red Holtzman and led by Walt Frazier 20.9 ppg, Willis Reed 21.7 ppg 13.9 rpg, Dick Barnett 14.9 ppg, Dave DeBusschere 14.6 ppg 10.0 rpg, Bill Bradley 14.5 ppg and Cassie Russell 11.5 ppg.
Dayton natives Bill Hosket and Don May were among the reserves.
Holtzman was a former NBA player who had formerly coached the St. Louis Hawks and was an executive with the Knicks.
Game one took place in Madison Square Garden in New York City with the Knicks behind Willis Reed getting out to a 65-54 halftime lead only to withstand a Laker run in the third quarter to win 124-112. Reed had 37 points while DeBusschere had 19 and 16 rebounds, Dick Barnett added 17 points and Bill Bradley chipped in with 16.
Like the previous year West led the Lakers in scoring with 33 while Chamberlain added 17 points and 24 rebounds and Elgin Baylor had 21 points and 20 rebounds.
The Lakers regrouped in game two to win a road game 105-103 with West scoring 34 points and Chamberlain scoring 19 with 24 rebounds. Reed had 29 points and 15 rebounds for the Knicks who lost home court advantage as the teams go to LA.
In the Forum the Knicks fought back and had the lead 102-100 with three seconds left in the game. LA inbounded the ball to Jerry West who threw up a shot from 60 feet from the basket that miraculously went in to tie the game and send it to overtime. New York regained the upper hand in overtime to win 111-108. West had 34 points and Chamberlain had 21 pints and 26 rebounds as both players played the entire 53 minutes.
Willis Reed had 38 points and 17 rebounds and Dave DeBusschere had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the winners.
Game four was another overtime game with the Lakers prevailing 121-115 as West scored 37 points and had 18 assists, Chamberlain had 18 points and 25 rebounds and Elgin Baylor had his best game so far in the series with 30 points and 13 rebounds as the series was even at 2-2.
In Madison Square Garden Willis Reed seriously injured his leg five minutes into the game and was considered out for the series. The Knicks held tight and rallied behind Walt Frasier and Cassie Russell to defeat the Lakers 107-100. West was only 6 of 14 from the field while Baylor had 21 and Chamberlain 22 as in this back and forth series the teams would go back to LA with the Knicks having two games to close out the Lakers.
Without Reed Chamberlain took over the game and scored 45 points on 20 of 27 from the field, together with West’s 33 points paced the Lakers to a 135-113 victory. DeBusschere and Cazzie Russell led New York with 24 and 23 points each to force the seventh game in New York.
Even though Willis Reed had suffered a bruised thigh/ torn muscle in game five, an injury that usually takes at least ten days to two weeks to recover from, among rousing applause from the fans, he took the floor against the Lakers in game seven as the Knicks felt they had to neutralize Chamberlain to win the game and the series.
Playing 27 minutes before he left the game to a standing ovation he held Chamberlain to only four points and the energized Knicks had a 69-42 halftime lead. The Lakers never recovered and Chamberlain’s’ 1-11 from the free throw line didn’t help.
Walt Frazier led the Knicks with 36 points and the Knicks garner a 113-99 victory and the NBA title. Reed got the series MVP and two years later the same two teams would meet in the finals.
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate