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1973 NBA Season – Rivalry and Last Stand

May 3, 2013

knicks_celtics_clyde 1973-knicks-celtics

The Knicks and Celtics battled in a classic Eastern Conference Finals in 1973, a series that still draws the ire of Boston fans.  At top, Walt Frazier going for a right-handed layup at Madison Square Garden and at bottom, Paul Silas going for a right-handed layup at Boston Garden *photos courtesy of and image slides

For 1973, it was the last stand for a few great teams.  After 1973, the great Knicks teams and the great Lakers teams of the late 60’s and early 70’s would not be the same, so it was ironic in a way that they met one more time in the Finals after each team had beaten the other for their only championships in two previous meetings.  It was also this year that the Knicks-Celtics rivalry was at its highest as the Celtics were just starting to develop confidence in the new core and revive their championship magic.

As for the NBA in 1973, it was switched to so that the team with the better record had home court advantage (even if the other team won the division) and the four best records in the conference made the playoffs.

The Celtics were coming off a 56-26 record and 1972 Eastern Conference Finals loss to New York.  They increased their record to 68-14 in 1973 (winning 24 of their final 27 games).  In the off-season, they had acquired rebounding ace Paul Silas for Charlie Scott (who was the property of Boston, despite playing in the ABA, because they had drafted him in 1970) to complete the roster of forwards John Havlicek and Don Nelson, guards Jo Jo White and Don Chaney, and center Dave Cowens.

The Knicks had gotten Willis Reed back for 1973, but neither he nor Dick Barnett were the same.  So the Knicks relied on Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Earl Monroe for scoring.  They had made a statement on November 18, 1972 when they hosted the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden.  The Bucks led 86-68 with uner 5:00 left.  New York scored the final 19 points to win on a Monroe jumper.  The Knicks increased their 48-34 1972 record to 57-25 in 1973.

Milwaukee came back with the same core, but Oscar Robertson was older and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a bit distracted.  He missed the 1973 All-Star Game because several of his friends were slain that year in a confrontation between rival Muslim factions at a home in Washington that Abdul-Jabbar owned.  He served as a pallbearer at their funerals during the All-Star break. (*NY Times.)  The Bucks still won 60 games for first place in the West and Bob Dandridge made his first All-Star team but they lost to the 4th seeded Golden State Warriors, who had Rick Barry back from the ABA, in the Semifinals.

For Los Angeles, their core remained the same but was a year older.  Chamberlain was 36 and in his last year in the NBA.  West was 34 and would play one more year (30 regular season and 1 playoff game in 1974) before hanging it up.  Happy Hairston went out with injury early in the season.  So the Lakers, to get rebounding help, acquired Bill Bridges and Mel Counts in a trade with Philadelphia for LeRoy Ellis and John Trapp.  Keith Erickson was back and healthy to replace Flynn Robinson (who was traded to Baltimore for a 2nd round pick) in bench scoring production.  The Lakers also won 60 games and survived a 7-game tussle with the Chicago Bulls in the Semifinals.  The Bulls had a 6-point lead at the end of third quarter at the Forum in Game 7.  But they only scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and blew a 90-83 lead with 2:58 left.  Chicago fell 95-92 after Wilt Chamberlain blocked a Norm Van Lier game-winning attempt and fired a full-length pass to Gail Goodrich for a layup.  Van Lier recounted the game and that series in this write-up.  The Lakers beat the Warriors in the Western Finals.

Two of the two-and-a-half games (I’ll explain later) I have from the 1973 season came from the regular season though (and, yes, this includes the All-Star Game without Kareem).

January 23, 1973 – NBA All-Star Game at Chicago: East 104, West 84

A record crowd for an NBA All-Star Game at 19,500 filed into Chicago Stadium for a fast-paced but ugly game.  The West had 27 turnovers while the East had 21.  The West shot 37% (33-for-88) while the East shot 41% (47-for-113).  As well as Kareem, the West was also missing Rick Barry who had a sprained ankle.  They were replaced by Bob Love and Connie Hawkins.

The West got off to a great start as Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald (on his way to leading the league in scoring and assists that season) hit his first three shots and Sidney Wicks scored 9 early points.  A jumper by Spencer Haywood put the West up 19-9.  The East went on a 6-0 run as Dave Cowens got a steal and basket and Maravich got 3 assists.  Archibald and Wicks would score 4 and 2 points to put the West up 25-19 late in the first.  But then the East went on an 8-0 run as Lou Hudson hit two free throws, Bob Kauffman hit a jumper, Wes Unseld hit a bank shot,  and Jack Marin (now playing for the Rockets) hit another jumper.  Chicago’s Chet Walker hit a wing jumper at the buzzer to tie the game and send the crowd into a frenzy.

This was the last All-Star Game in which the NBA had the rule that baseball has now where somebody on every team needed to be represented (there were 14 players chosen for each team).  This was because in the 2nd quarter of this game, John Block of the Philadelphia 76ers came into the game.  And while he didn’t play badly and wasn’t having a bad season, the 76ers would finish with a 9-73 record that season.  Bill Russell even commented to Chris Schenkel on how Philadelphia can’t beat anybody and how it must be tough to get up for a game that you know you’ll probably lose (Russell wouldn’t know or anything).  The East eventually got out to a 45-35 lead as Walt Frazier scored back-to-back baskets.  Before the game got to halftime, ABC cut away to a speech by Richard Nixon (obviously not shown on NBATV’s replay).  So the game returned at the start of the 2nd half with the East still up 50-45.  Cowens and Frazier led the East with 8 points.  Wicks and Archibald led the West with 11 and 10 respectively.

In the third quarter during a timeout, it was announced to the crowd that in the synopsis of Nixon’s address that he knew nothing of Watergate (just kidding!).  It was announced that a Peace Agreement would be signed 4 days from then that would officially pull America out of the Vietnam War.  A great historical moment to look back on (especially for me who loves history, as you can probably tell, and wasn’t alive at the time).  Bob Love scored the first 6 West points of the quarter but a Cowens three-point play put the East up 55-51.  The West came back to tie the game at 57 but it was then that the East would break it open.  DeBusschere and Cowens each hit jumpers then DeBusschere tipped in a Cowens miss for a 6-0 run then later John Havlicek went on a 6-0 run that put the East up 73-61.  The East would lead 76-65 after the quarter.

Marin and Maravich got the first four points of the 4th quarter for the East.  The West a little charge as Archibald got a three-point play and dished to West for a layup for an 80-70 score.  Maravich and West then each hit jumpers.  Then the West got another break but Jerry West missed a reverse layup.  Maravich got the rebound and took it coast-to-coast.  The East held the double digit lead for the duration helped by a 66-53 rebounding advantage.  Dave Cowens was named MVP after scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

East starters (teams) and point totals

John Havlicek (Boston Celtics) 14 – Small Forward

Dave DeBusschere (New York Knicks) 9 – Power Forward

Dave Cowens (Boston Celtics) 15 – Center

Walt Frazier (New York Knicks) 10 – Point Guard

Pete Maravich (Atlanta Hawks) 8 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Lenny Wilkens (Cleveland Cavaliers) 7

Jo Jo White (Boston Celtics) 6

Elvin Hayes (Baltimore Bullets) 10

Bill Bradley (New York Knicks) 4

Wes Unseld (Baltimore Bullets) 4

Jack Marin (Houston Rockets) 4

Lou Hudson (Atlanta Hawks) 6

Bob Kauffman (Buffalo Braves) 3

John Block (Philadelphia 76ers) 4

East Coach: Tom Heinsohn (Boston Celtics)

West starters (teams) and point totals

Sidney Wicks (Portland Blazers) 13 – Small Forward

Spencer Haywood (Seattle Sonics) 12 – Power Forward

Wilt Chamberlain (Los Angeles Lakers) 2 – Center

Nate Archibald (Kansas City-Omaha Kings) 17 – Point Guard

Jerry West (Los Angeles Lakers) 6 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Dave Bing (Detroit Pistons) 2

Chet Walker (Chicago Bulls) 4

Gail Goodrich (Los Angeles Lakers) 2

Nate Thurmond (Golden State Warriors) 4

Charlie Scott (Phoenix Suns) 0

Bob Lanier (Detroit Pistons) 10

Bob Love (Chicago Bulls) 6

Bob Dandridge (Milwaukee Bucks) 4

Connie Hawkins (Phoenix Suns) 2

West Coach: Bill Sharman (Los Angeles Lakers)

March 4, 1973: New York Knicks 97 @Baltimore Bullets 106

For this ABC Sunday Game of the Week, the Knicks and Bullets were playing each other at Cole Field House on the campus of the University of Maryland.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s, games were played at neutral sites to try and promote the game in that site.  It was becoming rarer in 70’s, although teams until the 90’s in some cases played 10 home games or so in another nearby site.  This was supposed to be home site for the Bullets, but the crowd sounded 50-50.

In the tougher NBA schedule of those days, the Knicks and Bullets had played the night before in Madison Square Garden (the Bullets won 97-75) and now traveled for a day game at College Park, Maryland.  On top of that, there was no air conditioning in Cole Field House.. so fatigue would be a factor.  The referees had to use smelling salts during timeouts in the 4th quarter and were soaked through their shirts.  Chris Schenkel also did mention that it was hotter than a… (he did actually pause after saying ‘a,’ Bill Russell’s reaction was ‘hotter than a what?’).  The Bullets came into this game with a 43-24 record and was leading the Central Division, but it was mentioned in the pre-game that for the first time since the 4-divisions format came into existence the team with the better record had home court no matter how they finished in their division.  So the Knicks with a 51-20 record were 2nd in the East despite being 2nd in their division (5 games behind Boston) and would have home court advantage in their eventual matchup with the Central-winning Bullets.

The Bullets had a different, younger team than the one that had made a token appearance in the 1971 NBA Finals.  Archie Clark was the only player who played major minutes that was over the age of 30.  The other players such as guards Kevin Porter and Phil Chenier, forwards Mike Riordan and Elvin Hayes and center Wes Unseld would form a solid nucleus for the mid-70’s.  The Knicks meanwhile were aging.  Willis Reed had returned against the Bullets the previous night after missing 7 games.  Dave DeBusschere would injure himself in this game in miss the next 2 games.  Dick Barnett was 36 and Jerry Lucas would be 33 by the time the playoffs started.  Reed, DeBusschere, Barnett, and Lucas would be retired by the end of the 1974 season.

Both teams came out hot for this game, making their first 3 shots.  By the time the game was tied at 12, there had been 6 ties.  DeBusschere turned out to be the hottest.  His 12th point gave the Knicks a 30-24 lead.  But DeBusschere as he made the tough baseline shot landed awkwardly on his hip.  Dave would be out for the game and the report at halftime was that he was flying back to New York ahead of the team to get an x-ray on the hip.  It didn’t turn out to be serious as he only missed the next 2 games.  Walt Frazier hit two free throws to give New York a 32-24 lead after one and give Clyde 12 points.

The Knicks maintained their lead in the 2nd quarter as Lucas and Phil Jackson were doing a good job scoring in DeBusschere’s place.  But Baltimore would finish the quarter on an 8-2 run to cut the Knicks halftime lead to 57-55.  The last two points came when Jerry Lucas committed a foul going after an offensive rebound with 4 seconds left.  Unseld made the two shots.  In the 3rd quarter, the fatigue would start to set in as each team scored 19 points in the quarter.  The Knicks maintained their lead as they got Monroe going.  Earl the Pearl had 15 points after the third, 9 had come in the quarter.  Monroe was wearing number 21 for this game instead of his usual 15.  A few days earlier, Monroe had washed his own jersey and hung it out to dry on the apartment clotheslines that go from one building to the other and someone had stolen it.

In the fourth quarter, the younger Bullets took advantage of the heat.  The guards were the biggest factor as Clark, Chenier, Porter, and Riordan were the biggest factors in giving the Bullets the advantage.  Porter made the first basket of the quarter on a cut to tie the game then Chenier made a jumper to give the Bullets the lead at 80-78, it was Baltimore’s first lead since the first quarter.  Clark then made back-to-back field goals but the Knicks were able to stay with Baltimore for awhile.  Barnett made a field goal to cut the Baltimore lead to 90-87 but then Chenier made a breakaway layup and subsequent free throw.  Then Clark made a jumper and 4 free throws to counter a Frazier and two Reed jumpers and maintain a 99-93 lead.  Then the game was finished when Riordan made a layup, Chenier made a jumper and then Riordan made a three-point play after a Monroe jumper.

The Knicks and Bullets would meet in the playoffs every year from 1969-1974.  The Knicks won all those series except for the 1971 Eastern Conference Finals.  The theme would continue as New York beat Baltimore in 5 games in the ’73 East Semifinals.  The next season, the Bullets moved to Landover, Maryland.  They became the Capital Bullets for the ’74 season and won the central again before losing to the Knicks in 7 games in the Semifinals.  They became the Washington Bullets for 1975 and made a deep playoff run with the roster featured in this ’73 game minus Archie Clark.

New York starters (points scored)

Bill Bradley (2) – Small Forward

Dave DeBusschere (12) – Power Forward

Willis Reed (14) – Center

Walt Frazier (26) – Point Guard

Earl Monroe (19) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Jerry Lucas (10)

Phil Jackson (9)

Dean Meminger (1)

Dick Barnett (4)

John Gianelli (0)

New York Coach: Red Holzman

Baltimore starters (points scored)

Mike Riordan (23) – Small Forward

Elvin Hayes (15) – Power Forward

Wes Unseld (16) – Center

Archie Clark (24) – Point Guard

Phil Chenier (21) – Shooting Guard

Baltimore bench (points scored)

Kevin Porter (2)

Stan Love (5)

Baltimore Coach: Gene Shue

bullets unis

The Baltimore Bullets uniform design for 1973, this was Phil Chenier’s *photo courtesy of Uni Watch

April 22, 1973 – Eastern Conference Finals, Game 4: Boston Celtics 110 @New York Knicks 117 (2ot)

Back to where I said I had two-and-a-half games from the 1973 season.  This great game I only have the first half of from Dave Cowens’ Vintage NBA.  From the looks of it, the first half only tells maybe 20% of the story, but the other 80% I have to get from written accounts and maybe a few highlights.

The big story for this game was that the Celtics were down 2-1 in the series after losing Game 3 at home and were also down their best player (or one of their best).  In Game 3, Bill Bradley was guarded by John Havlicek and ran Hondo into a blind Dave DeBusschere pick. Hondo severly strained the trapezius muscle in his right shoulder.  After missing Game 4, Havlicek played left-handed for the rest of the series but wasn’t the same.  This injury would be a factor in the Knicks eventual 7-game victory.

I find it funny when Celtic’s fans, like Bill Simmons, are still aggravated about how the Celtics should have won this season.  Perhaps, they would have if Havlicek didn’t get injured.  But I, as a Bulls fan, could argue that the Bulls would have won it all in 2012 if Derrick Rose didn’t get injured, but all we know if what actually happened.  But I find it funny because the Celtics have 17 other championships (only the New York Yankees and Montreal Canadiens have more championships) but yet fans are still bitter about 1973.  Even as a Bulls fan, one should remember the ’90’s for the championships instead of Scottie Pippen’s fantom foul on Hubert Davis in the one year the Bulls lost to the Knicks in the playoffs (without Jordan).  Remember the good things especially when they out-weigh the bad.

Anyways, the Knicks were also missing Monroe for this game as he had bruised his right hip in Game 3.  Dean Meminger scored 6 quick points in Monroe’s place to give the Knicks a 17-10 lead.  The Knicks came out aggressive and got an early technical foul on Boston Coach Tom Heinsohn (his 3rd of the series.. in 4 games).  The other thing I’ve heard complaints from Boston fans about this series was the officiating (especially at the end of Game 4).  New York took a 25-20 lead after the quarter.  The Celtics got it going in the 2nd quarter led by their young stars who were coming into their own, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens.  New York starting playing carelessly in the 2nd and eventually was booed by the home crowd.  The Celtics took a 48-42 halftime lead when White hit a long jumper from the right corner over rookie guard Henry Bibby with 4 seconds left.  White finished the first half with 18 points while Cowens had 15.

This was the last footage shown by Vintage NBA.  The Celtics had a 72-56 lead after three as White and Cowens had 48 combined points and Silas had 21 rebounds.  But down 16 with 10 minutes left, Frazier led a Knicks comeback and hit the tying basket at 89 on a fall-away.  At the end of the 1st overtime, Jackson hit tying free throws for a double overtime tied at 101.  Because of the injuries, foul trouble (Reed and Memniger fouled out) and ineffectiveness (Lucas had no field goals for the game), Knicks rookies Bibby and John Gianelli came into the game in the first overtime.  Gianelli was particularly effective, scoring 10 points and playing great defense on Cowens.  Cowens ended up fouling out in 2nd overtime (along with White) and the Knicks closed the game on an 11-4 run.

Heinsohn had some critical comments for officials Jack Madden and Jake O’Donnell after Game 4, siting the 38-23 free throw attempts advantage that the Knicks had.  ““You’’ve got to be up 20 points going into the fourth quarter in this place, and we were only up 16,” growled Heinsohn.  The Celtics won the next 2 games (Game 5 on two Silas free throws to win 98-97) before losing their first Game 7 in franchise history, 94-78 at Boston Garden.  The Knicks beat the Lakers in 5 games to win the NBA Championship.

Boston starters (points scored)

Don Nelson (16) – Small Forward

Paul Silas (5) – Power Forward

Dave Cowens (33) – Center

Jo Jo White (34) – Point Guard

Don Chaney (5) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Steve Kuberski (6)

Paul Westphal (6)

Art Williams (6)

Hank Finkel (0)

Boston Coach: Tom Heinsohn

New York starters (points scored)

Bill Bradley (13) – Small Forward

Dave DeBusschere (22) – Power Forward

Willis Reed (10) – Center

Walt Frazier (37) – Point Guard

Dean Meminger (10) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Jerry Lucas (3)

Phil Jackson (8)

Henry Bibby (2)

Dick Barnett (2)

John Gianelli (10)

New York Coach: Red Holzman

Credit to informing me about the 2nd half of this game goes to Knickerblogger and the Celtics website.  And here’s a Sports Illustrated article on the series that helped immensely.


Celtics Coach Tom Heinsohn never really liked officiating, but especially after Game 4 of the 1973 Eastern Conference Finals versus New York *photo courtesy of ESPN Boston


From → NBA

  1. Chuck Kadis permalink

    Is it possible to get a copy of the 1973 Celtics Knicks game?

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