The Greatest Game 3s in NBA Finals History
By John Hareas
The roll call includes (and stars) Jerry West and the Lakers (twice), Rick Barry’s Warriors, D.J.’s SuperSonics, Michael Jordan’s Bulls (twice), Charles Barkley’s Suns and most recently Dwyane Wade and the Heat. Congratulations. All of you and your respective teams are featured among the Greatest Game 3s in Finals history.

Jerry West Steal & Game Winner | Watch
(Los Angeles Lakers 117, Boston Celtics 115, April 10, 1962)

With the series tied at one game apiece, the first ever Finals game in Los Angeles was one for the ages as a record crowd of 15,180 packed the Sports Arena. (The Fabulous Forum wouldn’t open for another five years.) Jerry West, who tied the game at 115, stole the ball from Sam Jones, who tried to inbound it to teammate Bob Cousy. West drove roughly 30 feet in the game’s final three seconds to score the winning layup at the buzzer.

Despite pleas from the Lakers bench to pull up and shoot, West was very much aware of how much time remained.

“I had deflected the ball on the run,” said West. “I knew I would have enough time, because I knew what the shot clock was.”

Rick Barry Drives for 55 Against 76ers | Watch
(Game 3, San Francisco Warriors 130, Philadelphia 76ers 126, April 18, 1967)

They were the most dominant team in NBA history, winners of 45 of their first 49 games on their way to posting an NBA regular-season record of 68-13. No team came close to matching the Philadelphia Sixers that season. The defending champion Boston Celtics? They finished eight games behind Philly in the Atlantic Division and were disposed of in five in the Eastern Division Finals, which ended their streak of eight consecutive championships. Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Luke Jackson headlined this juggernaut with the Big Dipper focusing less on scoring and more on defense, rebounding and intimidation.

While the Sixers headlined the ’66-67 season, the NBA welcomed a new scoring leader, Rick Barry, the San Francisco Warriors’ second-year small forward out of the University of Miami. Barry scored a league-best 2,775 points for a 35.6 average, borrowing the title away from Chamberlain who the seven prior.

In the 1967 Finals, the Warriors found themselves staring at an 0-2 series deficit when Barry imposed his scoring will and ran circles around the Sixers defense in Game 3 in San Francisco, launching a Finals record 48 shots while tying Elgin Baylor’s 1962 mark of 22 made field goals. Mid range, long range, Barry was unconscious from the field, scoring 55 points, the second highest total in Finals history behind Baylor’s 61. It is easily one of the more underrated performances and games in Finals history.

West’s Wing and A Prayer | Watch
(New York Knicks 111, Los Angeles Lakers 108, OT, April 29, 1970)

The moment occurred in an era, which predated the three-point shot, yet will always live among the greatest Finals games (and calls) in NBA history.

“West throws it up! He makes it! West threw it up and makes it," shouted New York Knicks announcer Bob Wolff.

Jerry West’s desperation 60-foot shot swished through the net, amazingly tying Game 3 between the visiting New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers at 102. It was a miraculous shot, given the circumstances and what little time West had to work with after Knick forward Dave DeBusschere made a driving layup to give New York a 102-100 lead. Laker center Wilt Chamberlain inbounded the ball and West took it from there, racing up the court, dribbling three times before letting it fly 10 feet beyond half court. Swish!

DeBusschere collapsed in pure disgust while the Lakers celebrated, some more than others such as Chamberlain, who ran off the court thinking the Lakers were victorious. Unfortunately for West and the Lakers, the NBA didn’t adopt the ABA three-point rule until nine years later. Despite the shocking turn of events for New York, swingman Dick Barnett wasn’t about to allow his teammates to feel sorry for themselves as the game headed into the extra session: “What’s the matter with you guys?,” said Barnett. “This game’s not over. It’s just starting.”

Barnett was prophetic while playing a key role in New York’s overtime victory, hitting the game winner with four seconds remaining as the Knicks defeated the Lakers, 111-108, to take a 2-1 series lead.

Super Sonic-Bullets Finish
(Seattle SuperSonics 93, Washington Bullets 92, May 28, 1978)

Think a nine-point lead with four minutes remaining is safe? Not in the NBA and certainly not in the NBA Finals. That was the deficit the Washington Bullets were faced with in Game 3 of the ’78 Finals versus the visiting Seattle SuperSonics.

Spurred by their home crowd, the Bullets found a way to narrow the gap to three, 93-90, thanks to a Wes Unseld layup. Shortly after, five seconds to be precise, Bullets guard Tom Henderson added two more after stealing a Dennis Johnson inbound pass. Sonics 93, Bullets 92.

The Sonics immediately turned the ball over when Paul Silas was called for stepping over the inbound line by referee Earl Strom. The Bullets now had a chance to win the game with three seconds remaining. After a Washington timeout, the Bullets set up a play that resulted in Bob Dandridge launching a jumper from the left corner that bounced upward off the rim as Elvin Hayes unsuccessfully tried to tap it in.

A notable from the game and not to be overlooked was D.J.’s seven blocked shots. D.J. was 6 foot 4.

Bullish Comeback | Top 10 Plays of 1991 Finals
(Chicago Bulls 104, Los Angeles Lakers 96 OT, June 7, 1991)

The Michael vs. Magic Finals matchup shifted to Los Angeles for Game 3 as the Chicago Bulls were looking for their first-ever Finals road victory. For the remaining 10.9 seconds, it had appeared the Bulls would have to wait until Game 4 to seek that milestone after Laker center Vlade Divac snagged a Michael Jordan miss in traffic and drove to the basket for a three-point play and a 92-90 lead.

With the game and series lying in the balance for Chicago, Jordan, who had missed 16 of his 24 field goal attempts, drove down the court and beat Laker defender Byron Scott off the dribble before draining a 14-foot jumper over him to tie the game and send it into overtime.

In OT, the Lakers had their share of difficulties executing on offense (a botched Magic Johnson to Elden Campbell lob and ill advised Sam Perkins hook) opened the door for the Bulls as Jordan and forward Horace Grant combined on a four-point sequence that put the Bulls up for good.

It was an impressive team performance by Chicago, which earlier had trailed the Lakers by 13 in the third quarter. Grant scored 22 points, forward Chet Livingston went 5-for-5 from the field and the Bulls owned the glass grabbing 46 rebounds while holding the Lakers to an all-time Finals low of 29. Jordan, who amazingly played 53 out of a possible 53 minutes, ended up scoring half of the Bulls points in overtime.

“He has the energy a lot of guys don't have,” said teammate John Paxson. "Games he should be dead, he always responds."

And so did his teammates in Game 3.

Suns Shine vs. Bulls in ’93 Triple OT Classic | Top 10 Plays of 1993 Finals
(Phoenix Suns 129, Chicago Bulls 121 3OT, June 14, 1993)

Think Finals triple-overtime classic and naturally you think of the ’76 masterpiece between the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics. Well, the ’90s had a pretty good one as well when NBA MVP Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns visited the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, June 13, at Chicago Stadium. It was only the second triple overtime Finals game in NBA history (there once was a quadruple overtime playoff game between the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals in the 1953 Eastern Division Semifinals).

It was a game that had special significance to Phoenix head coach, Paul Westphal, who played a key role in the ’76 encounter as a guard for the Suns. “This will go down in history as one of the greatest games,” said Westphal. “Up there with the one I played in. But this one was better because we won.” The Bulls were on a roll in the series, becoming the first team in Finals history to win the first two games on the road and were now looking at the next three (or at least two) at home.

Thoughts of a potential Bulls sweep started to fade at the 7:33 mark as Chicago trailed Phoenix 99-88 yet somehow rallied to force overtime. The momentum had now shifted to Chicago’s favor as the Bulls controlled OT but were unable to close the deal. The game went into a second extra session where the Bulls appeared to be heading toward victory.

Phoenix rallied as the game went into a third overtime where the Suns peeled off a 9-0 run, which was sparked by Dan Majerle’s sixth 3-pointer of the game at the 3:04 mark. From there, Barkley took over, scoring four consecutive points off a dunk and a steal, which he converted to a layup.

The marathon session finally came to a close with the Suns winning, 129-121 as numerous records were broken that late evening. The Suns hit a record nine three pointers, surpassing the previous mark of eight held by the Detroit Pistons. Both teams combined for 14, which was four more than the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers in 1987.

How about this stat? Suns guard Kevin Johnson played 61 minutes in the game, scoring 25 points and dropping 10 assists.

"This was the greatest basketball game I've ever played in," said Barkley, who played with a sore right elbow. "We gave it everything and the Bulls can say they did the same."

After the game, Westphal was asked about the differences between the ’76 classic and now the ’93 instant classic. “This time the good guys won.”

Wade a Comeback! | Watch
(Miami Heat 98, Dallas Mavericks 96, June 13, 2006)

After losing Games 1 and 2 by an average of 12 points in Dallas, the Heat were well aware that no team in Finals history had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit and won an NBA title.

Trailing by 13 with 6:34 remaining and the Miami crowd growing increasingly frustrated, Dwyane Wade singlehandedly resuscitated a season lying in the balance as he willed the Heat back into the game and series, igniting a breathtaking 12-2 run. Wade was unstoppable despite a sore left knee – bank shot, jump shot, slashes to the basket – scoring nine point during the stretch.

“I kept looking up at the score thinking, ‘I ain’t going out like this,” said Wade. “Not 3-0 [in games]. So, you do what you can.”

What Wade did was everything as the sellout crowd sprung to life, tasting victory as the Heat suddenly surged ahead, 95-93, thanks, in large part, to clutch free-throw shooting by Shaquille O’Neal and Udonis Haslem.

While the Heat was white hot down the stretch, the Mavs were ice cold, going scoreless for nearly five minutes until Devin Harris tied the game with a driving layup with 33.5 seconds remaining. Miami surged ahead as Gary Payton picked the most opportune time to drain his only field goal of the game, a 16-foot jumper from the right side at the 9.3-second mark.

Despite the meltdown, the Mavs had an opportunity to send the game into overtime after Dirk Nowitzki was fouled. Nowitzki, who entered the game shooting 94 percent from the free-throw line for the series, made his first attempt and did the unthinkable, missing the second one with three seconds remaining as Wade pulled down the huge rebound, virtually sealing the Mavericks’ fate.

The Heat’s comeback from 13 down in the fourth was the largest in Finals play since the Chicago Bulls trailed by 15 to the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter of Game 6 in the 1992 Finals before winning 97-93.

“The basketball gods were good to us tonight,” said Miami head coach Pat Riley after the game.

Oct. 26
Rosters set for opening day

Oct. 27
Start of 2009-10 regular season

April 18
2009 NBA Playoffs begin

Other Features
NBA 101