All-time NBA/ABA tournament of champions: Part V

All-time NBA/ABA tournament of champions: Part V

1970s/1960s Decade final rounds

By Cort Reynolds

All the decade rounds are now finished, with five teams having clinched spots in the elite eight by winning their bracket.  Top seeds won three of the five decade brackets, while a three and a four seed also emerged victorious.

The other three spots will be filled as the six best previous losers will face off in one-game playoffs to earn entrance to the quarterfinals. The three survivors will assume the six through eight seeds and as "lucky
losers" will only get home games in the third and fifth contests of their quarterfinal series.

All-time NBA/ABA Tournament of Champions
1970s and 1950s/60s Finals Results (all series are best of 7)
Seed, title year and team with season record, playoff record and head
coach listed in parentheses

1970s Bracket Finals
#1 seed 1972 Los Angeles Lakers (69-13, 12-3, Bill Sharman)
Starters: J. West, G. Goodrich, W. Chamberlain, J. McMillian, H. Hairston
Key reserves: F. Robinson, P. Riley, K. Erickson, E. Baylor (retired 9
games into season)
#3 seed 1973 New York Knicks (57-25, 12-5, Red Holzman)
Starters: W. Frazier, D. DeBusschere, W. Reed, E. Monroe, B. Bradley.  6th
man: J. Lucas.
Key reserves: P. Jackson, D. Meminger, D. Barnett

Series recap: These two mega-market, megastar glamour franchises met three times in some epic NBA Finals over four years from 1970 through 1973. The Knicks captured two of those three meetings and held a 9-8 edge in games won during their trilogy of title showdowns.

The undersized Knicks were one of the smartest and best passing teams in NBA history, and boasted a lineup where every player could shoot from outside, drive, run, defend and pass well. As power forward Dave DeBusschere said, "There was a complete unselfishness about the team."  His forward running mate and roommate Bill Bradley added, "in all the years I played with Dave I don't ever think I was open when I didn't get a pass from him."

The acclaimed Rolls Royce backcourt of former antagonists Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe struggled at times to mesh in their first season as a duo in 1971-72, but by 1973 they had learned to play quite well together.
They formed one of the best mid-range shooting and ballhandling backcourts in NBA history. While the icy Frazier was also a defensive demon, the fiery Monroe was not a defensive stalwart. But he gave the fundamental, disciplined Knicks a player who could go one on one when their outside shooting and passing game hit an occasional dry spell.

DeBusschere, called the "most talented small power forward ever" by team captain Willis Reed, was a unique combination of old school brawn, skills, toughness and smarts. A player-coach at just age 24 in Detroit, he was a ferocious defender and good long-range shooter, as well as an excellent rebounder. A fine athlete, he pitched for three seasons with the Chicago White Sox before devoting himself fully to pro hoops. A clutch player, he ran the floor well and was a no nonsense enforcer.

The 6-5 Princeton product/Rhodes scholar Bradley was the heady passer and shooter who Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay observed "made the Knicks go" with his cerebral ball movement. A tenacious competitor, he was an underrated defender with quick hands and feet to help make up for a lack
of size, speed and leaping ability.

Their bench was led by long-armed, brainy defensive specialist and future coach Phil Jackson, who despite his awkward moves, was an effective offensive player and good mid-range shooter. At 6-8, he could play either foward slot or even backup center at times.

Dean Meminger was another fine long-armed defender off the pines at guard.  Dick Barnett, a 15-year veteran and starter on the 1970 Knick title team, gave NY a southpaw shooter off the pines and a heady experienced backup two guard. Henry Bibby was a rookie from UCLA who became one of the few
men to win an NCAA title in one season (1972) and an NBA crown in the next year (Bill Russell, Billy Thompson and Earvin Johnson being some of the others).

The 1973 Knicks employed a combination of aging Hall of Famers at center called "Willie Lucas" after 6-9 Willis Reed and 6-8 Jerry Lucas. The two undersized centers were excellent shooters, and Lucas in particular had great range and was a superb passing big man.

Wilt Chamberlain had said that Lucas was the man he hated to guard most, because his long-range bombing "took me to places I didn't want to go" far out on the floor. Southpaw Reed also had an excellent touch out to 18 feet and had the ability to blow past bigger centers to his left.

Lucas, the memory expert, possessed an unusual but deadly off the right shoulder long-range shooting touch that would have been ideal for the three-point line had it been in effect during his playing days. A fine rebounder with great hands, he was an extremely smart player.

The 1972 Lakers won the first title in franchise history while based in Los Angeles after seven failures, four of which came in excruciating seventh game losses.

When Hall of Fame forward Elgin Baylor abruptly retired nine games into the 1971-72 season after two straight losses dropped LA to 6-3, second-year forward Jim McMillian stepped into his spot and made it his own, averaging 18.8 ppg. Coincidentally, the team immediately embarked on a 33-game win streak, longest in league annals.

The heady McMillian gave LA improved speed, movement away from the ball
and shooting range over the aged, injured Baylor, who balked at a proposed reserve role and instead retired. Jimmy Mac teamed with strong rebounder Happy Hairston at forward, a hustler who also could scored exactly as many points per game (13.1) as rebounds he grabbed (13.1).

And Jerry West, in his 12th season and seventh Finals, finally got his
long-awaited title.

Under former Celtic guard great Bill Sharman, the new Laker coach who implemented more of a running game in place of their one on one,
superstar-oriented offense of years past, West blossomed into the league assist leader for the first time in his illustrious career.

Yet West showed little if any signs of scoring deterioration as he also averaged 25.8 points a game and made all-defense on his way to another first team all-league guard spot alongside the younger Frazier. Meanwhile
his explosive backcourt mate, Gail Goodrich, became a full-fledged superstar in 1972.

The left-handed Goodrich led the team at 25.9 points a game with his high-release jumper and quick drives, and was interchangeable with West in running the offense. The tandem combined to form the highest-scoring
backcourt in league history (51.7 ppg), and arguably the best-shooting guard duo ever as they hit over 48 percent from the field and 83 percent at the foul line. Yet each had the speed, quickness and moves to drive to the basket or penetrate and pass well, making them almost unguardable.

Perhaps Sharman's biggest move was to convince Wilt, in his penultimate season, to morph basically into a west coast version of the retired Russell. Sharman encouraged Wilt to focus on rebounding, defense and
outlet passing to trigger the vaunted Laker break, and Wilt bought into it. He scored 14.8 ppg on 65 percent shooting while leading the league in rebounds (19.2) and unofficially in blocked shots.

Perhaps an even tougher sell happened when Sharman became the first NBA coach to institute the morning game day shootaround, now a staple in the league. A great shooter who believed in muscle memory, Sharman convinced Wilt, a notorious late riser, to give the shootarounds a try.  When the Lakers roared to a 39-3 start on the strength of their record win streak, no one could argue with the results, not even the outspoken Big Dipper.

The Laker bench was not particularly deep, with an injury to athletic all-around swingman Keith Erickson limiting his season.  Future Laker coach Pat Riley gave the team defense, hustle and some scoring punch in his place as a 6-4 swingman. Veteran backcourt man Flynn
Robinson provided excellent shooting off the bench as well, but guard playing time was limited for him due to the greatness of West and Goodrich.

The Lakers rolled to the 1972 championship, winning a much-ballyhooed and anticipated showdown with defending champion Milwaukee in the Western Conference finals. The 132 wins (69 by LA, 63 by the Bucks) that the two teams combined for set a record likely never to be broken for most victories by conference finals combatants.

The series featured tremendously intriguing individual matchups, with Wilt going up against a young Jabbar in a twist version of his duels with Russell. The two greatest guards in NBA history to that point faced off
once again in Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, while Bobby Dandrdge dueled against against McMillian in a matchup of fine young underrated small forwards. At the other guard, Goodrich and long-range sniper Jon
McGlocklin traded bombs.

Most experts expected a seven-game battle to the wire, but Buck coach Larry Costello predicted it would end in six. He was right, only he had the wrong team winning. LA rallied in the fourth period to win game six and the series in Milwaukee as West scored 25, and advanced to face the Knicks. Without an injured Reed, the Knicks were no match for the hungry Lakers. LA lost game one due to an amazing outside shooting display by the Knicks, but then rolled to victory in the next four games by an average of 11 ppg to seize their long-awaited title.

In 1973 the aging Knicks finished 11 games behind the Celtics, who set a franchise mark for best record at 68-14. NY beat familiar rival Baltimore in the first round, their fifth straight playoff meeting. In the eastern
finals, a right shoulder injury to Celtic great John Havlicek helped the Knicks grab a 2-1 series lead.

In a pivotal Easter Sunday epic showdown in game four, the Knicks rallied against a short-handed Boston team to pull out a memorable 117-110 double overtime win. Down 3-1, Dave Cowens tossed in 32 points but it was weak-shooting Celtic Paul Silas who surprisingly canned two free throws in the final seconds of Game 5 to stave off elimination and provide a 98-97 win. With Hondo back and somehow able to contribute 18 points, Boston stayed alive.

After Boston upset New York on the road in game six as league MVP Cowens scored 26 points, it appeared the Knicks were in deep trouble, and they received a severe tongue-lashing for apparently blowing the series from long-time GM Ned Irish. Yet the chewing out may have galvanized the proud

The Celtics had never lost a seventh game at home, but with Havlicek unable to play anywhere near his normal high standard they mustered only 56 points over the final 36 minutes against the swarming NY defense.  Meminger came off the bench in place of Monroe to score a surprising 13 points while playing his customary strong defense, and the Knicks pulled off a stifling 94-78 upset to advance to their Finals rubber match against LA.

The Lakers, who had lost all four games to Boston that season as Wilt could not keep up with speedy young league MVP Dave Cowens, publicly acknowledged they preferred to face the older Knicks. Perhaps they should not have riled the cagey New Yorkers.

For after losing the first game, the Knicks ran off four straight close victories, clinching the title at the Forum as Monroe and Jackson (subbing for DeBusschere, who twisted an ankle in game 5) made several big plays
down the stretch.

Chamberlain put away a cherry pick dunk with a second left for his final NBA points, and the Knicks celebrated on the Forum floor where they had lost the title a year before.

So the stage was set for the meeting between two titans, the 1972 Lakers and 1973 Knicks. Once again first team all-league guards Frazier and West would lock horns, as would Hall of Fame guard Goodrich and Monroe after Gail embarrassed Earl in the 1972 Finals, outscoring him 25.6 ppg to 6.8 ppg.

Wilt and "Willie Lucas" would do battle in the middle, while Bradley and McMillian and DeBusschere/Hairston renewed acquaintances. And future coaching greats Jackson and Riley, with 16 NBA titles between them on the sidelines, would also play key roles off the bench.

Game one in the Forum was a jump shooter's delight, with eight of the 10 starters good or better outside marksmen. West fired in 33 points while Frazier scored 27 and doled out 10 assists. Goodrich and Monroe negated one another with 23 and 22 points, respectively.

The perimeter shooting of Reed and Lucas tantalized Wilt, who was at 35 was fairly immobile and loathe to come out on the perimter to defend lest he get burned off the dribble.
The Knicks clung to a small lead throughout most of the second half, but McMillian tied it late on a jumper. DeBusschere appeared to win it on a foul line jumper with three ticks left, but Wilt quickly in-bounded to West, who nailed a 55-footer at the buzzer to force overtime. Had the
three-point ine been in effect then, the shot would have won the game. But the contest was played under the rules of the time.

A less mentally tough outfit would have folded on the road after such a shot, but the Knicks regrouped and won in OT by three behind Bradley and Frazier. A long jumper by Lucas clinched the victory, 111-108.
LA faced a near must-win situation in game two, and their running game spearheaded the club to a 16-point halftime lead. Goodrich, West and McMillian combined for 64 points in the first three periods, but the
Knicks rallied in the fourth to make it interesting before LA put the game away at the foul line behind its sweet-shooting backcourt.

Across the country in Madison Square Garden for game three, the Knicks were welcomed home by their rabid fans. In the friendly confines, DeBusschere hit for 33, Bradley 24 and Frazier 22 as the Knickerbockers won going away, 113-99.

In game four the Lakers knotted it up again as Wilt dominated Reed and Lucas inside to the tune of 25 points and 24 rebounds. West added 25 points and a dozen assists while Goodrich added 24 markers to tie it 2-2.

Back in LA for game five, the Lakers took their first lead of the series with an overtime victory. West put the game into OT with a 22-footer from the right wing. Goodrich scored eight in the extra session and a putback
by Hairston put the Knicks away, 115-112.

With the series on the line back in the Big Apple, the Knicks came outfiring. Jackson scored 14 off the bench as the NY bench outplayed its Laker counterpart.  Reed had his best game of the series with 22 markers while Wilt scored just six. New York pulled away late to avoid any more late-game heroics by

So it all came down to one game in the Fabulous Forum. The Knicks had won game seven in Boston in 1973 as well as the title at Los Angeles that same year, and the heady veteran squad was not intimidated by the surroundings. LA raced to a 10-0 lead as the Forum crowd roared its approval. But the cool Knicks, paced by the steady hand of Frazier, slowly worked its way back into the game and a 28-28 tie after one period.

The duo of Lucas and Reed took turns firing away from outside to frustrate Wilt. DeBusschere took it to Hairston while Goodrich and Monroe battled it out evenly. The game was tied at 53-all at the half, and the Lakers edged ahead 76-74 heading to the fourth period on a steal and layup by West just before the buzzer.

The teams traded haymakers in the fourth period. West hit from outside, but Frazier answered with a driving reverse layup. Goodrich did a spin move past Earl the Pearl, but Monroe came right back with a gyrating move of his own against Gail.

Wilt stuffed inside over Reed, but Willis faked a 17-footer and drove left by the Dipper for a pretty finger roll.

Knick coach Red Holzman decided to go with a defense/offense sub pattern with Dean Meminger in for Monroe on defense. But Dean couldn't stop Goodrich or West.

Jerry's 20-foot pull up from the top of the key gave LA a 112-110 with just seconds left. After a Knick timeout, Lucas canned a 25-footer at the horn to force the third OT of the close series.

In overtime the Knicks intentionally fouled Wilt twice, and he hit on just one of his four free shots.

DeBusschere then pulled off the play of the series when he snared an offensive rebound against Wilt, laid it back in and drew a foul, completing the three-point play for a five-point Knick lead in the final

West quickly drove to the hoop, scored and was fouled himself. His foul shot brought LA within 123-121. Frazier was fouled and calmly drained both shots with 10 seconds remaining. With the Laker starters tiring due to a weaker bench, the Knicks double-teamed West and Goodrich buried a 23-footer to keep them alive.

Reed was fouled and made the first free throw. His second one rimmed out, but Jackson tipped in the miss with a backbreaking offensive rebound. Chamberlain's snowbird stuff with a second left cut the deficit to three. Bradley threw the ball in quickly to Reed, and before LA could foul, the clock ran out as Dollar Bill leapt into the arms of the captain.

DeBusschere, who dominated his counterpart Hairston to the tune of 21 points and 14 rebounds a game, was the difference, along with the Knick bench, led by Lucas, Jackson and Meminger.

And once again it was oh so close but no cigar for the aging West, Wilt and the Lakers.

Series result: New York 4, LA Lakers 3
Series MVP: Dave DeBusschere

1950s/60s Bracket Finals
#1 seed 1967 Philadelphia 76ers (68-13, 11-4, Alex Hannum)
Starters: W. Chamberlain, H. Greer, W. Jones, C. Walker, L. Jackson  6th
man: B. Cunningham.
Key reserves: D. Gambee, M. Guokas, L. Costello
#2 seed 1963 Boston Celtics (58-22, 8-5, Red Auerbach)
Starters: B. Russell, B. Cousy, S. Jones, T. Heinsohn, T. Sanders
Key reserves: J. Havlicek, F. Ramsey, KC Jones, C. Lovellette

Series recap: Only two teams won NBA titles in the 1960s: the Celtics, who captured an incredible nine banners in the decade, and the rival 76ers, who broke their eight-year hold on the title in 1967. Philadelphia, which had moved from Syracuse just three years earlier after the Warriors left for the Bay Area, set a then-record for wins in a season with a 68-13 mark. That record was barely bested five years later by another team featuring Wilt, the 1972 Lakers, who went 69-13.

The 76ers of '67 featured four Hall of Famers, while the '63 Celtics boasted an astounding eight. Playing at his peak, Wilt shot 68 percent from the field, averaged 24 points and 24 rebounds per game and almost led
the league in assists at 7.8 per outing (the next year he did top the NBA in assists, the only time a center has done that).

Finally surrounded by a supporting cast to rival Russell's, he had learned to maximize his teammates. The result was a title as they beat Boston 4-1 in the eastern finals before holding off a tough San Francisco squad in six games in the championship series.

In fact, the Warriors led by one late in game six after a Rick Barry jump shot. But of all people, Wilt underhanded a pair of foul shots into the net, then moments later rebounded a missed free throw by Luke Jackson and scored.

With SF down to its last chance in the final seconds, Wilt and Chet Walker harassed Barry, who had fired in 44 points, into a bad shot. The 76ers rebounded, made two foul shots and escaped with a hard-fought 125-122 title-clinching triumph.

The powerhouse Sixers averaged 125.2 points a game and also featured Hall of Fame shooting guard Hal Greer (22.1 ppg), All-Star forward Walker (19.3 ppg), second-year sixth man extraordinaire Billy Cunningham (18.5 ppg in just 26.8 minutes per), and the powerful 6-9 Jackson (12 ppg, 8.9
rebounds). Perhaps their only mediocre spots were Wally Jones (13.2) at one starting guard and a short bench beyond Billy C.

The 1963 Celtics were the most talented team then-rookie John Havlicek has said he ever played on, and they scored 118.8 points a game, with seven players averaging double digits. With 35-year old Bob Cousy (13.2 ppg, 6.8 assists) playing his final season and Satch Sanders (10.8 ppg) recently inducted, all five starters are now enshrined in Springfield.  Russell (16.8 ppg,23.6 rebounds), clutch sharpshooting guard Sam Jones (19.7 ppg), defensive stalwart Sanders and gunner Tom Heinsohn (18.9 ppg) were all in their prime. Aging sixth man Frank Ramsey (10.9), athletic rookie swingman Hondo (14.3 ppg) and defensive ace KC Jones (7.2 ppg) led a potent bench that also featured 33-year old backup center/forward Clyde
Lovellette, a four-time All-Star with the Hawks and Lakers.

The two rival cities and teams went at it, with the Russ/Wilt matchup taking center stage, as usual. Philadelphia owned the homecourt advantage and took game one, 131-127 in a shootout. Chamberlain powered to 35 points and 22 boards while Russell scored 18 and grabbed 28 caroms. Two guards
Hal Greer and Sam Jones dueled their way to 29 and 27 points, respectively.

Cunningham came off the bench to score 18 while Walker netted 21 and Jackson pulled down 14 boards. The Celtic bench was led by Ramsey with 14 and Havlicek's 11 markers.

The Celtics knotted it up with a road win in game two, 124-121. Russell limited Wilt to 19 points and Heinsohn tossed in 27. The 76ers led by one late when Sam Jones banked in a left wing 17-footer. Chamberlain missed a finger roll, Russell rebounded and threw an outlet pass to Cousy, who was
fouled and made a pair of foul shots to clinch it with just seconds left.

Back in Beantown for game three, the Celtics took a 2-1 lead with a 130-119 victory. Rookie Havlicek led the Boston bench with 23 points while Ramsey added 16. Boston never trailed after the first stanza.

Philly bounced back with a 145-129 blowout in game four. Wilt fired in 44 points and grabbed 27 rebounds to lead the way.

Back home for game five, the 76ers regained the series lead with a 115-113 overtime win behind 37 points from Greer and 21 off the pines from instant offense Cunningham.  With 20 points Jones led seven Celts in double figures. Hondo added 19 markers.

Two nights later in the Garden, Boston forced a seventh game with a116-114 victory. Jones tallied 26, Russell 22 and Hondo 21 for the victors. Villanova grad Wally Jones had his best game of the series for
Philly with 30 points, but Cunningham scored only five and Wilt had 17, including one of seven at the foul line.

Game seven in Philadelphia was tight all the way. But the 76ers pulled away from a halftime tie with a big third period spurt. Boston rallied within one in the final seconds on a Havlicek pull-up jumper from 15 feet.
The Celtics fouled Chamberlain on purpose and the Dipper underhanded one of two in. But on the second shot miss, Jackson rebounded and Greer was eventually fouled. One of the NBA's few jump-shooters from the foul line who boasted 80 percent charity stripe accuracy over his career, Greer canned both for a 107-103 lead.

Heinsohn knocked down a hook shot but with no timeouts left, the clock ran out on Boston before the 76ers had to throw the ball in, letting time expire (the clock did not stop back then on made baskets in the final
minute). Jubilant Philly fans stormed the court to celebrate the dramatic two-point game seven victory.

Chamberlain scored 29 points and grabbed 23 rebounds to lead the win. Russell scored 14 and pulled down 25 boards.

Their decade-long dominance made Boston the team of the decade, but for one campaign in the 1960s, one might argue that the 1967 76ers, built to dethrone the Celtics, were the best single-season aggregate assembled.

Sixer coach Alex Hannum, who guided St. Louis to the 1958 title in his first full season on the bench and nine years later took Philly to the 1967 crown in his initial campaign as the 76er mentor, was the only coach
to best Boston in Russell's 13 years in the NBA.

Series result: Philadelphia 4, Boston 3.
Series MVP: Wilt Chamberlain

Elite 8 Recap
The 6 "lucky loser" teams chosen to face off in a single-game playoff for the 3 remaining play-in spots are:
1987 LA Lakers, 2013 Heat, 1974 Celtics, 1971 Bucks, 1972 LA Lakers and 1963 Celtics. The 1983 76ers and 2008 Celtics just missed the cut. Those three playoff game winners will fill out the bottom three seeds in the single-elimination quarterfinals.

Upcoming loser's bracket pairings:
2013 Heat vs. 1972 Lakers: the two teams with the longest winning streaks (27 and 33 games, respectively) in NBA history.
1974 Celtics vs. 1963 Celtics: the first Boston title team without Russell, led by Havlicek and Cowens, against one of the deepest Celtic teams ever.
1971 Bucks vs. 1987 Lakers: 24-year old Jabbar and the Big O face off versus 40-year old Kareem and Earvin Johnson.

Clinched spots in final 8 and thus an automatic top 5 seed:
1950s/60s champion 1967 Philadelphia
1970s champion 1973 New York
1980s champion 1986 Boston
1990s champion 1996 Chicago
2000s champion 2007 San Antonio

Check back for the loser's bracket single-game elimination results in the next installment of the series coming soon.