1973 NBA Finals: New York 4, L.A. Lakers 1
Knicks Win One for the 'Aged'
The 1973 NBA Finals was a meeting of old foes, as the New York Knicks met the Los Angeles Lakers for the third time in four years. The Boston Celtics had run off the league's best regular-season record, an incredible 68-14. But New York dumped them in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series, taking the seventh game in Boston Garden, where Walt Frazier scored 25 points to push his team to a 93-78 win.
"It will be nice to see Jerry," Frazier said afterward, referring to West and his Lakers. "Between us it will be a battle of pride." Not to mention age.
Chamberlain was now 36 years old. West was turning 35 and was philosophical about it. "There's no question that there are a lot of things I can't do that I once could, particularly on offense," he admitted. He was no longer among the scoring and assists leaders in the league, and neither was Chamberlain. Although he led the league in rebounding and shot an incredible .727 from the floor, critics carped that Chamberlain seemed increasingly lethargic.
Gail Goodrich still led the team as the backcourt shooter, and Keith Erickson and Jim McMillian still worked from the corners. But Happy Hairston spent much of the season injured, and to bolster the frontcourt the team picked up veteran forward Bill Bridges.
New York was also a team aware of its age. Dick Barnett was 36 and no longer a starter. All four frontcourt players -- Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Jerry Lucas -- were in their early 30s. Lucas and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe had joined the Knicks the previous season, and both made much of their desire to play on an NBA championship team. Coach Red Holzman liked that.
Reed had returned from knee surgery, but the going was slow. So he and Lucas split time at center, averaging 20 points between them, which Holzman figured was good production from the post. "I had to accept it," Reed said of splitting time with Lucas. "Red said, 'Some nights you'll start. Some you won't.' I was struggling back from my injury. And we were good for the team. We were different kinds of players. We presented different problems for different teams."
The starting guards were Frazier and Monroe. The previous season, Monroe had worked as the third guard, which surprised many who thought he wouldn't adjust after being a star in Baltimore. "They said he'd never work, and he came in and took the back seat," said Reed. "It was Walt's team, and Earl didn't try to change that."
By 1972-73 the Knicks needed Monroe to start in place of Barnett, and he was ready with his array of playground moves and fakes and his unorthodox shots. Some nights he seemed positively capable of magic.
When they needed backcourt defense, the Knicks brought tenacious Dean Meminger off the bench. And when they needed quickness, they called on Henry Bibby, the former mighty mite from UCLA. Phil Jackson was the main sub at forward, where Bradley and DeBusschere were the starters.
The Knicks upset the Celtics in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday, April 29, then had to scramble to Los Angeles for a Tuesday night meeting with the Lakers. The Knicks requested a delay of the start of the NBA Finals until Wednesday. No way, replied the Lakers.
The Knicks arrived tired and promptly met a well-rested monster. Chamberlain blocked seven shots and intimidated with his defensive ferocity. Mel Counts, the Lakers' other 7-footer, had nine rebounds. Los Angeles owned the interior, while the Knicks shot from the perimeter and rebounded poorly. The Lakers jumped out to a 20-point lead with 26 fast-break points.
The Knicks did make a good run in the second half. West, who had 24 points, fouled out with three minutes to go. And Bradley found a seam along the baseline where he was able to get some open shots. New York cut it to 115-112, but Erickson got a defensive rebound at the end and whipped the ball out to Bridges to preserve the win.
In Game 2, New York slowed the Lakers' fast break with a heightened effort on defense. The Knicks took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, but Los Angeles made a charge in the final minutes. Only when McMillian missed a pair of free throws with 24 seconds to go was the victory assured. The Knicks evened the series, 99-95.
Game 3 in New York appeared to be a debacle for the Knicks as both Bradley and DeBusschere struggled for a combined 8-of-27 from the floor. Chamberlain took only three shots and West was suffering from two strained hamstrings, but the Lakers managed to come back. The Knicks survived on Reed's jumpers and nine fourth-quarter points from Monroe, who finished with 21. New York won 87-83 to increase its series lead.
West, Chamberlain and McMillian all struggled against the Knicks defense. Chamberlain, in fact, made only 22 field goals in the series and missed 24 of 38 free throws. "I don't feel either team has done badly on offense," West told the press. "They've done just about as well as the defenses will let them."
DeBusschere opened Game 4 with an offensive outburst, hitting 11-of-15 from the floor in the first half. But it was tight down to the end. At the 48-second mark, with the Knicks up by two, Bradley missed. Both Chamberlain and Reed fought for the rebound, and the deflected ball was picked up and laid in by DeBusschere as Wilt fouled him. The free throw gave New York a 103-98 victory and a series lead of three games to one.
Game 5 in the Forum was another tough one, but the Knicks secured a lead down the stretch. Then DeBusschere went out in the fourth period with a sprained ankle. Things seemed in doubt until Monroe scored eight points over the last two minutes to ice it, 102-93.
The Knicks had their second championship, and Lucas and Monroe, champions at last, did most of the celebrating in the locker room. The Lakers were losers again, and Chamberlain practiced a sportsmanlike diplomacy.
"The Knicks are so well-balanced," he observed, "and have tremendous passing and so many good shooters that you can't concentrate on one man. The key to the series was that their defense stopped our running game."
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