40 years from glory: Bucks, Celtics remember the 1974 NBA Finals
Few players get a chance to win multiple NBA championships, let alone one. Some can throw a bag of rings on a table; others lose track of time because there is no hardware, no inscription, to remind them of an anniversary.
Each applies to men who coached and played in the 1974 NBA Finals, seven games played over 15 spring days that has tied the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks together, forever.
On the 40th anniversary of that finals, OnMilwaukee.com takes you back – along with a dozen people affiliated with the series – to that classic, seven-game duel that featured six future Hall of Famers and an additional five All-Stars.
It's the history of that Finals as they know it, since no video exists of many of the games. The road team won five times, including the ultimate game – the first Game 7 of a Finals won by a visitor in NBA history.
"It's got to stand out," said Celtics forward Don Nelson, who won five titles as a player and went on to coach the Bucks in the 1980s. "It was a great series."
Milwaukee had the Most Valuable Player in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the legendary Oscar Robertson, who finished their fourth year together leading the league's best team.
"We were the David and they were the Goliath," Celtics head coach Tom Heinsohn said.
But Robertson, as well as other key contributors on the Bucks, were injured as they prepared to take on Boston, a team which had rebuilt with a 25-year-old center named Dave Cowens and was ready to reclaim its throne in the post-Bill Russell era.
But … "If you got a guy like Oscar Robertson and Kareem, no matter who you put out there you were going to have a good chance of winning," said Bucks reserve Dick Garrett. "That was kind of the mindset on this team.
"I don't think any of us thought we'd lose."
The lost games
The first five contests have been lost to time, even for those who lived them.
All can recall the intensity, the chess match between Bucks coach Larry Costello and Heinsohn, and the decision to harangue Robertson with a full court, man press while singling Abdul-Jabbar with Cowens. Without Allen, Heinsohn had wanted to take advantage of Don Chaney and Jo Jo White's quickness in the backcourt.
It worked – the Celtics stole Game 1 98-83 at Milwaukee Arena, "The Mecca." The teams traded victories over the next four games, including a Bucks overtime triumph in Game 2 after the Celtics rallied back from a 14-point halftime deficit.
But no accessible video remains of those games – every player OnMilwaukee.com interviewed has never seen them. Even the family of former Bucks owner Jim Fitzgerald, who became a pioneer in cable television, has no tape of the CBS broadcasts.
"What I wish is that I'd like to be able to watch all seven games," Cowens lamented. "I wish somebody has the tape of all seven games. All you see is basically one game, the double overtime. And the final game, you see some clips from that. But what about game one through five? You don't really see too much of that.
"There were some good games."
There were – but ultimately they proved to be the table setters for an amazing three days in May.
Friday, May 10:
Game 6 at the Boston Garden
One of the most difficult environments to play on in the NBA welcomed the Bucks in Game 6. Bucks forward Bob Dandridge admitted the Celtics' gamesmanship played on the minds of opponents, like when an open window chilled the visitor locker room of the nearly 50-year old arena, and that the Celtics faithful could hang over the rails to welcome an opponent to the court.
This was where the Bucks, trailing three games to two, absolutely had to win to stay alive.
"Game 6 was one of the great games in NBA, not just Bucks, history," Bucks forward Jon McGlocklin said.
Milwaukee took an eight point first quarter lead, which was whittled to seven, then to six, after three quarters. The Celtics tied the game, but the Bucks had a chance to win at the end of regulation when McGlocklin set up on the left baseline and Robertson found him with three seconds left. His attempt, however, was short.
"Every time I jumped it felt like somebody stuck a knife in my calf," McGlocklin said. "I jumped off of one leg so it meant I was totally off balance. And I will guarantee you, had I been healthy that game would have ended right there."
Each team scored four points in the first extra session, and it was a putback by series MVP John Havlicek with five seconds left that sent the game into a second overtime.
Cowens then fouled out, which brought Hank Finkel off the bench to defend Abdul-Jabbar, but the Celtics looked to have clinched the title when Havlicek hit a baseline jumper over a closing Abdul-Jabbar with seven seconds left to give the Celtics a 101-100 lead.
Costello called for time.
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