Epic game highlighted classic series
The 1974 National Basketball Association Finals may have had more plots and subplots than any of the 43 playoff series the Milwaukee Bucks have played in their 44-season history.
It was the Bucks’ second – and last – appearance in the Finals.
It included five victories for the visiting team.
It marked the conclusion of Oscar Robertson’s 14-year Hall-of-Fame career.
It pitted the Bucks against Don Nelson, the man who would coach them to 540 regular-season victories and 42 playoff wins beginning two years later.
It featured one of the NBA’s all-time classic playoff games.
That game ended with one of the league’s most classic final shots.
The series pitted the Bucks, who won the Midwest Division championship with a league-best 59-23 record, against the Boston Celtics, champions of the Atlantic Division with a 56-26 mark.
En route to the Finals, Milwaukee defeated Los Angeles, four games to one, in a Western Conference semifinal series before sweeping the Chicago Bulls in four consecutive games in the Western Conference Finals.
The Celtics began their trek to the Finals by defeating the Buffalo Braves, four games to two, in their Eastern Conference semifinals series before ousting the New York Knicks, four games to win, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Milwaukee played the entire playoffs at substantially less than full strength. Guard Lucius Allen, who was enjoying his best season as a professional, ranking third on the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game, sustained torn knee cartilage in a March 15 game against Detroit and missed the balance of the regular season and the playoffs.
Bucks coach Larry Costello opted to replace Allen in the starting lineup with Ron “Fritz” Williams, whom Milwaukee had obtained in an Aug. 24 trade from the Golden State Warriors. A sixth-year pro, Williams made just 13 regular-season starts with the Bucks, averaging 6.3 points per game.
The series began in Milwaukee on April 28, and a theme was set early: The home-court advantage may have meant less in this NBA Finals than in any before or since.
The Celtics roared to a 35-19 first-quarter lead in Game 1. The Bucks managed to pull within 10 points at 71-61 after three quarters, but Boston pulled away in the final period for a 98-83 victory. Future Hall-of-Famer John Havlicek, who would be a thorn in the Bucks’ side throughout the series, led Boston with 26 points, and center Dave Cowens and guard JoJo White added 19 apiece. Milwaukee’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar began one of the most dominant playoff series any player has ever had against Boston, scoring 35 points, but none of his teammates managed more than 12.
The Bucks salvaged a split of their two home games to open the series with a 105-96 triumph in Game 2 April 30. They took command by outscoring the Celtics 32-17 in the second quarter, but Boston roared back and forced overtime before Milwaukee rang up a 15-6 advantage in the extra session and prevailed. Abdul-Jabbar collected game highs of 36 points and 15 rebounds, forward Bob Dandridge recorded his series high of 24 points, and his running mate, Cornell Warner, had a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds. Warner’s backup, Curtis Perry, made a big contribution with 12 points and seven rebounds to help Milwaukee overcome 25 points by White, 18 by Havlicek and 17 points and 11 rebounds by Cowens.
The series shifted to Boston Garden for Game 3, and the Celtics gained a 2-1 edge with a 95-83 victory May 3. Another fast start by the Celtics – 32-12 in the first quarter -- was the Bucks’ undoing. Cowens poured in his series best of 30 points, hitting 13 of 18 field-goal attempts, and Havlicek contributed 28 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee with 26 points and 10 rebounds, Dandridge scored 16 points, and reserve forward Mickey Davis continued his emergence as a vital playoff contributor with 14 points.
Milwaukee evened the series at two games apiece with a 97-89 victory in the Boston parquet floor May 5. The Bucks played their best defensive quarter of the series, holding the Celtics to 12 points in the second period to take a 49-39 halftime advantage. Abdul-Jabbar paced everyone with 34 points and 14 rebounds, Dandridge scored 21 points, and Davis, given a starting opportunity by Costello, chipped in with 15. Bolstering the Bucks’ bench with Davis starting, Jon McGlocklin scored 10 points and Perry tore down 10 rebounds. Cowens scored 24 points and Havlicek 23 for Boston, but Milwaukee limited White and Don Chaney, the Celtics’ starting guards, to a combined 18 points.
Game 5 at Milwaukee saw the series swing back in Boston’s favor as the Celtics came away with a 96-87 win. Havlicek and Cowens tallied 28 points apiece , Chaney and White made a speedy recovery with outings of 16 and 18 points, respectively, and Paul Silas came off the bench to score eight points and snare a game-high 16 rebounds. Abdul-Jabbar achieved his series high of 37 points and grabbed 11 boards, Robertson reached his high mark for the series with 23 points, and Dandridge had a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Game 6 at Boston Garden on May 10 was the epic, spanning two overtimes before Robertson fed Abdul-Jabbar, who hit his patented sky hook from 15 feet out on the right baseline to lift Milwaukee to a 102-101 triumph. The shot, recognized as one of the most dramatic ones in NBA playoff history, capped a 34-point performance for Kareem. Dandridge turned in a 20-point performance, Robertson scored 18 and Davis came up with 12 points and eight rebounds. The Bucks managed to offset a 36-point outburst by Havlicek by limiting Cowens to 13.
The Bucks, unfortunately, couldn’t capitalize on their home-court advantage in Game 7 on May 12, falling to the Celtics 102-87. Cowens delivered game highs of 28 points and 14 rebounds, Havlicek and White scored 16 points each and Silas had 14 points and nine rebounds off the bench for Boston. Abdul-Jabbar collected 26 points and 13 boards, Davis came through with 15 points, Dandridge had 14 and McGlocklin tossed in 13 in a reserve role.
The NBA championship banner was the 12th for Boston … and only the second one the Celtics hoisted after winning a seven-game NBA Finals series on an opponent’s home floor.