NBA.com takes a look back at the top moments that define the history of the NBA.
It was a game that many call the greatest ever. Former Hall of Fame player Rick Barry, who broadcast the game, called it “the most exciting basketball game I’ve ever seen,” and anyone fortunate enough to be in Boston Garden on Friday night, June 4, 1976, would likely agree.
It was Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a series that was tied 2-2 between the tradition-steeped Boston Celtics and the upstart Phoenix Suns, a team born out of expansion less than a decade earlier. The game went three overtimes, the first Finals game ever to last that long, and had enough thrills, twists, and turns for a whole series.
There was an unacknowledged timeout at the end of the first overtime that, had it been granted to Boston’s Paul Silas, would have resulted in a technical foul and given the Suns a chance to win the game. But referee Richie Powers chose to ignore the signal, and the teams played on.
In the second overtime, Phoenix grabbed a one-point lead with four seconds left but Boston’s John Havlicek raced the length of the floor and scored on a 15-foot bank shot that brought hundreds of Celtics fans pouring onto the fabled parquet. After order was restored, the officials put one second back on the clock and prepared to give Phoenix the ball.
That’s when the Suns’ Paul Westphal asked for, and received, a timeout he knew his team did not have. The strategy resulted in a technical foul, which stretched Boston’s lead to two points, but it enabled the Suns to make the inbounds pass from midcourt. Gar Heard caught the ensuing pass, turned and sank a jumper at the buzzer to send the game into its third overtime, stunning and nearly silencing the Garden faithful.
With key players on both teams having fouled out, it was a seldom-used reserve, Glenn McDonald, who rose to the occasion for the Celtics. He scored six points in the third OT to lead Boston to an exhausting 128-126 win. Two days later, the Celtics beat the Suns 87-80 in Phoenix to wrap up their 13th NBA championship.