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1976 NBA Finals
Team Coach Wins
Boston Celtics Tom Heinsohn 4
Phoenix Suns John MacLeod 2
Dates: May 23 - June 6
MVP: Jo Jo White
(Boston Celtics)
Television: CBS (U.S.)
Announcers: Brent Musburger, Mendy Rudolph, and Rick Barry
Radio network: WBZ-AM (Boston), KTAR (Phoenix)
Announcers: Johnny Most (Celtics), Al McCoy (Suns)
Game 1:
Game 2:
Game 3:
Game 4: Richie Powers, Manny Sokol
Game 5: Richie Powers, Don Murphy
Hall of Famers: Dave Cowens (1991)
John Havlicek (1984)
Pat Riley (2008, coach)
Tom Heinsohn (1986, player)
Eastern Finals: Celtics defeat Cavaliers, 4-2
Western Finals: Suns defeat Warriors, 4-3
 < 1975 NBA Finals 1977 > 

The 1976 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round for the 1975-76 NBA season.



The Phoenix Suns finished the season with 42 wins and 40 losses, but beat the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the playoffs and went on to play the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, giving the Celtics a tough battle before falling in six games.

The 1976 NBA Finals also marked the first time that NBA games of any kind were being played during the month of June.

Series summary

Game Date Winner Score Site
Game 1 May 23 (Sun.) Boston Celtics 98-87 @ Boston
Game 2 May 27 (Thu.) Boston Celtics 105-90 @ Boston
Game 3 May 30 (Sun.) Phoenix Suns 105-98 @ Phoenix
Game 4 June 2 (Wed.) Phoenix Suns 109-107 (OT) @ Phoenix
Game 5 June 4 (Fri.) Boston Celtics 128-126 (3 OT) @ Boston
Game 6 June 6 (Sun.) Boston Celtics 87-80 @ Phoenix

Boston Celtics defeated Phoenix Suns, 4 games to 2


Game 1

The Suns looked weary and shell-shocked in this one, shooting only 38 percent from the field as Boston cruised to an easy 98-87 win in the Boston Garden.

Game 2

The Celtics posted another easy win at home, going on a 20-2 run in the third quarter that put the game out of reach.

Game 3

Having won the first two games rather easily, playing the next two at Phoenix was expected to be a minor inconvenience for the Celtics. However, the young Suns had other ideas. Phoenix stepped up their intensity on defense and held Boston scoreless for nearly five minutes in the second period as they raced to a 16-point lead. Then, the Sun's Ricky Sobers and Boston's Kevin Stacom got into a fistfight, and both were ejected. Sobers was having a good game at that point, and Phoenix coach John MacLeod would later accuse the Celtics of having Stacom bait Sobers into the fight in order to get him out of the game.

The Suns extended the lead to 23 in the third, but Boston began to charge back and cut the lead to two with three minutes left. At that point, Suns rookie center Alvan Adams came alive and drove for two buckets, passed off to Paul Westphal for another, and then tipped in a Westphal miss moments later.

That was enough to get Phoenix a 105-98 win. Adams finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds. Dave Cowens and Charlie Scott both fouled out for the Celtics, and the Celtics also were whistled for two technicals, prompting Boston criticism of the officiating.

Game 4

Referees Don Murphy and Manny Sokol responded to the game 3 criticism by whistling 21 fouls in the first 10 minutes. Celtics coach Tom Heinsohn responded by raging and stomping on the sideline and claimed later that the affair was pure "high school." John Havlicek and Cowens, however, put the blame on their team for committing stupid fouls.

The game was a nip-and-tuck affair all the way to the end, when Ricky Sobers hit a bank shot to put the Suns up by four with 90 seconds left. The Celtics cut it to two and had a chance to tie it, but lost 109-107 when Jo Jo White missed a jump shot late.

Game 5

June 4 Phoenix Suns 126, Boston Celtics 128 3OT  Boston Garden, Boston
Attendance: 15,320
Referees: Richie Powers, Don Murphy
Scoring by quarter: 18-36, 27-25, 27-16, 23-18 OT: 6-6, 11-11, 14-16
Pts: Sobers, Westphal 25 each
Rebs: Curtis Perry 15
Asts: Perry, Ricky Sobers 6 each
Pts: Jo Jo White 33
Rebs: Havlicek, Cowens 5 each
Asts: Jo Jo White 9

Game 5 was a triple-overtime classic that is considered by many to be the greatest game in NBA history. With the series tied 2-2, Boston took a huge lead at Boston Garden but could not hold it. The game was enhanced by several controversies, including Boston's Paul Silas trying to call a timeout at the end of regulation that Boston did not have (with the officials simply ignoring him lest the game be decided upon a technical foul shot), but eventually went to Boston in three overtimes, 128-126. Phoenix, in tying the game, overcame a 22-point deficit.

The most notable portion of the game was the final 20 seconds of the second overtime. Boston led at that point 109-106 (with the three-point basket not yet in existence). Phoenix had possession of the ball. In an amazing and frantic sequence, the following transpired:

(a) The Suns' Dick Van Arsdale hit a short jumper from the corner, cutting the gap to 109-108,

(b) the Celtics inbounded the ball to John Havlicek, but the Suns' Paul Westphal came from seemingly out of nowhere to knock the ball out of Havlicek's hands. As his momentum was carrying him out of bounds, Westphal saved the ball to Van Arsdale, who passed it to Curtis Perry. Perry took an 18-footer from the left wing and missed.

(c) Havlicek went after the rebound on the Perry miss, but couldn't get a grip on it and ended up tapping the ball back to Perry on the left baseline.

(d) Perry then let fly from 15 feet (4.6 m) and made the shot to put the Suns ahead.

Phoenix suddenly led, 110-109, with just six seconds left, and the team looked poised to win their third straight game and grab a 3-to-2 edge in the series. Not to be outdone, John Havlicek (already of "Havlicek Stole the Ball" fame) responded with a drive and a leaning one-hander in traffic that put Boston in front 111-110 as the horn sounded. The fans then poured onto the court to celebrate Boston's victory. The Celtics returned to their locker room. But, as CBS analyst Rick Barry loudly pointed out, the ball went through the hoop with two seconds left and the clock should have been stopped. The officials apparently agreed with Barry and ordered the Celtics back onto the floor. The game was not over.

During the ensuing pandemonium, a fan attacked referee Richie Powers and other fans turned over one of the scorer's tables. After clearing the court (the fan who attacked Powers was arrested) and getting the Celtics back on the floor, the officials put one second back on the clock. Still, Phoenix's chances seemed slim, as they had the ball under their own basket with a second left. Then Paul Westphal of the Suns made a heady play, signaling for a time out that the Suns did not have. Although this resulted in a technical foul being called on Westphal, the play was critical for Phoenix, because the rules at the time gave Phoenix the same advantage (save for the technical foul shot) that they would have had with timeouts remaining to use; namely, possession of the ball at half court. Boston's Jo Jo White made the technical free throw, increasing Boston's lead to 112-110.

During the timeout, fans were still on the Boston Garden floor, even disturbing the Suns' huddle by their bench as coach John MacLeod was drawing up a play for a possible tying basket. The Suns' players repeatedly had to shove the fans out of the way, and Phoenix general manager Jerry Colangelo even threatened to not bring his team back to the Boston Garden for Game 7 if security couldn't maintain control. When play resumed, Phoenix's Garfield Heard took the inbounds pass from Perry and made a buzzer-beating shot (a turn-around jumper at the top of the key) for the Suns that tied the score yet again, 112-112.

Boston eventually took a six-point lead, 128-122, late in the third overtime. Westphal scored the next four points for Phoenix, cutting the gap to 128-126, but could not get the ball again (with Westphal nearly stealing a pass near half court as the third overtime wound down).

Boston then won Game 6 and took their 13th championship. Jo Jo White was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.

Game 5 trivia

  • Dave Cowens, Charlie Scott, and Paul Silas all fouled out (were disqualified due to six personal fouls) for the Celtics, and Alvan Adams and Dennis Awtrey both fouled out for the Suns. Silas picked up his fifth foul late in the fourth quarter, but played the entire remainder, including all three overtime periods before fouling out late in the third.
  • The Suns had the lead in the game on only three occasions (twice in the second overtime) and never by more than 1 point. They led 95-94 late in the fourth, and 106-105 and 110-109 in the 2nd overtime.
  • Glenn McDonald, a little-used Celtic reserve player, scored eight points in the game, all in overtime, including six in the 3rd overtime.
  • Finals MVP Jo Jo White led all scorers with 33 points.
  • Future Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley was a reserve on the Suns' bench, but never got in the game.

Game 6

After the tough Game 5 loss, the Suns were more defiant than ever heading back home to Phoenix. "We know we're going to beat them." Garfield Heard declared. "It's going to take seven now, but we know we're going to beat them. We showed we came to play."

The first half was a defensive struggle. Each team scored 20 points in the first quarter, then Boston scored 18 in the second while holding the Suns to 13. Keith Erickson, a key Suns' reserve, had attempted to play at the start of the second period, but reinjured his sprained ankle and never returned. After falling behind by 11, Phoenix caught up again in the third and took a 67-66 lead on a Ricky Sobers free throw with 7:25 left in the game.

But the Celtic heroes of old (Dave Cowens, John Havlicek) and new (Charlie Scott) took control from there. Havlicek hit two free throws; then Cowens stole the ball, drove, scored, drew the foul and made the foul shot for a three-point play. Cowens then scored two baskets and Havlicek another to put it away. Scott had three steals during the run and finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, ending a series-long 11-for-44 shooting slump.

During the run, Phoenix's only response was four free throws. The Celtics rode their surge to an 87-80 win and their 13th championship.

Jo Jo White scored 15 points, giving him 130 points in six games, and was named the series MVP. John Havlicek celebrated his eighth NBA title as a Celtic.

Television coverage

NOTE: Series had three straight off days between Sunday afternoon opener and Thursday night second game due to CBS-TV's concern with low ratings for professional basketball. The 1975-76 network television season (as well as May sweeps) ended after Wednesday, May 26 (with weekend afternoon games not factored into the prime-time ratings). Accordingly, CBS-TV allowed Game 1 to be played on Sunday afternoon, since the ratings would not count, but would not permit Game 2 to be played live in prime time unless the NBA waited until Thursday evening.

Game 3 started on Sunday, May 30 at 10:30 a.m. MST in order for CBS to televise the final round of the PGA Tour Memorial Tournament following the game. The move angered numerous clergy in the Phoenix area, who saw drastically reduced attendance at Sunday services. The game also happened to be on the same day as the Indianapolis 500, but live flag-to-flag coverage of the event by ABC Sports was still 10 years away.

CBS play by play announcer Brent Musburger, in a Fall 2009 interview with ESPN, said that he and color announced Rick Barry were rooting for Phoenix to win Games 3, 4, and 6. Musberger said that this was because he and Barry were paid by the game. Since the Series was 2-0 Boston after the first two games, Musberger and Barry wanted the Suns to win the next two games to tie the series (likewise with Game Six). Boston fans, unaware of Musberger's and Barry's motivations, were upset with the announcing crew because of their apparent favoritism.


We may play all night here in the Boston Garden. It’s a good thing it’s Friday night. All you kids don’t have to go to school tomorrow, just tell your dad to get you another Coca-Cola! (CBS analyst Brent Musburger during Game 5 in the early moments of the second overtime.)
Won't start till it's touched, they'll have to throw it up, Gar Heard turnaround shot in the air.....IT'S GOOD!!! It's tied again! I don't believe it! Garfield Heard at the buzzer, threw one in outside, we've got a third overtime here in the Boston Garden!! (Brent Musburger reacting to the Phoenix Suns' Gar Heard's turnaround jumpshot at the buzzer to ensure a tie and force a third overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 4, 1976, Boston Celtics versus Phoenix Suns.)
(Dick) Van Arsdale with a quick shot, it's a one point game again, just what Rick (Barry) predicted. (Paul) Westphal to the corner, back to Van Arsdale, (Curtis) Perry in the air! Won't Go! (John) Havlicek! Perry again! Perry with a jump shot....PUT IT DOWN!!! Phoenix has gone ahead!!! We've got 5 seconds, I don't believe it! I don't believe what I just saw down here! 110 to 109! I've got 5 seconds, that was incredible!!! Where did Westphal COME from???!!! (Brent Musburger's spectacular, frenzied call to a spectacular end of the 2nd overtime, in which Paul Westphal of the Phoenix Suns made a key steal in which Curtis Perry hit a jump shot, which gave Phoenix the one point lead, in the closing seconds of the 2nd overtime of the 1976 NBA Finals Game 5, in which the Phoenix Suns took on the Boston Celtics)
There's still two seconds left in this basketball game, Brent! (Rick Barry, vehemently disagreeing with Brent Musburger after John Havlicek hit the bank shot to put the Celtics up 111-110, seemingly at the buzzer at the end of the second overtime. Replays showed that the ball went through the basket with two seconds left on the clock.)
Why small forwards want to become shot blockers is beyond me! (Rick Barry, after Ricky Sobers hit a baseline shot in the second overtime to tie the game at 105-105. Sobers was fouled by 6'5" Don Nelson, who attempted to block the shot, and hit the ensuing free throw to give the Suns their first lead in overtime, 106-105.)

Team rosters

See also

External links


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