The 1972 finals were a rematch of the 1970 series with the Los Angeles Lakers 69-13 facing off against the New York Knicks 48-34. The Lakers had changed coaches yet again and former Celtic star Bill Sharman who as a player won four titles with Boston took over the helm in LA.
The 69 wins was the most of any team up to that time and their 33 game winning streak is a record that still stands.
Elgin Baylor who had played on the previous eight finals losing Laker teams retired during the season due to leg injuries. They were led by Jerry West who was also bothered by injuries with 25.8 ppg, Gail Goodrich 25.9 ppg, Wilt Chamberlain 14.8 ppg 19.2 rpg and Jim McMillan 18.8 ppg.
The Knicks still coached by Red Holtzman featured Walt Frazier 23.2 ppg, Dave DeBusschere 15.4 ppg 11.3 rpg, Jerry Lucas 16.7 ppg 13.1 rpg and Bill Bradley 15.1 ppg.
The team may have been one of the more academic as Lucas became a memory expert and Bradley had been a Rhodes Scholar and Princeton graduate.
Both teams had future Hall of Fame coaches as reserves. For the Knicks it was Phil Jackson and for the Lakers Pat Riley.
The Knicks were without the services of Willis Reed, the 1970 Championship Series MVP, for most of the season and the playoffs. This would prove crucial in the finals against the Lakers as Reed had played a key role in containing Wilt Chamberlain in 1970.
They had obtained Jerry Lucas from the San Francisco Warriors to help fill the void Reed left but Lucas was only 6’ 8” going against the 7’ 1” Chamberlain.
Game one was in the Forum in Los Angeles and the Knicks field goal percentage was .538 compared to the Lakers .371. Lucas was 13 for 21 for 26 points, Bill Bradley 11 0f 12 for 29 points and Dave DeBusschere had 19 points and 18 rebounds as the Knicks win 114-92 to go up 1-0.
DeBusschere was a key Knick player as at 6’ 6” he was a great rebounder and all around solid player and when he was injured in game two and unable to play effectively for the rest of the series it hampered the Knicks chances for success.
The Lakers regained their poise and led by Wilt Chamberlain who had 23 points and controlled the boards with 24 rebounds together with Gail Goodrich’s 31 points led Los Angeles to a 106-92 win to even the series.
Walt Frazier led the Knicks with 21 points and Phil Jackson filling in off the bench for DeBusschere added 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Game three switched to Madison Square Garden in New York with the Knicks hoping to win at home but the loss of DeBusschere proved to be too much as Wilt Chamberlain had one of his better games going 9 of 10 from the field and 8 of 11 from the free throw line-which was exceptional for Wilt as he was notoriously bad on free throws-and 20 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 107-96 win.
Jerry Lucas playing 47 minutes had 23 points and 14 rebounds and Frazier added 25 points for the Knicks.
Game four was a key game in the series as the Knicks needed a win. The series’ closest game went into overtime after Walt Frazier got position under the basket on Wilt Chamberlain and tipped in a Dave DeBusschere miss with three seconds left in regulation to tie the game 101-101. The Lakers however outscored the Knicks in overtime for a 116-111 win to go up 3-1.
Chamberlain played all 53 minutes and had 24 rebounds, West added 28 points, Goodrich 27 and McMillan 23 while Jerry Lucas also played all 53 minutes scoring 25 points, pulling down 8 rebounds and had 11 assists. DeBusschere played 43 minutes despite his injuries and had 13 rebounds while Frazier had 24 and Bill Bradley had 26 points.
The game four tie after regulation was as close to winning as the Knicks would get, as back in the Forum Chamberlain dominated with 10 of 14 from the field for 24 points and pulled down 29 rebounds to lead the Lakers to their first title since they were in Minneapolis in 1954.
For the much maligned Chamberlain it was one of his best moments in basketball as he was awarded the series MVP. He would play one more year before retiring and both teams would be back in the finals the next year.
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate