When the Boston Celtics’ John Havlicek recorded a steal in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals, no one knew it become one of the most iconic plays in NBA postseason lore.
In that game, the Celtics’ lead had shriveled to 110-109. Philadelphia regained possession with five seconds left after an inbounds pass attempt by Boston’s Bill Russell hit one of the wires that ran down from the ceiling of Boston Garden and helped support the baskets in those days.
Hall of Fame guard Hal Greer prepared to toss the ball inbounds under his own basket. The logical target seemed to be massive Wilt Chamberlain in the low post, but Russell fronted Chamberlain and took away that option. K.C. Jones, guarding Greer, leaped along the baseline and frantically waved his arms to distract him as the five seconds ticked away.
Havlicek had taken a position several feet off the direct line between Greer and Chet Walker, making it look like Walker was open when he really wasn’t. After counting off a couple of seconds in his head, Havlicek sneaked a peek over his shoulder at Greer just as he prepared to release the ball.
Havlicek tipped the inbounds pass to teammate Sam Jones, who dribbled out the clock to secure the win as fans poured onto the court.
The Celtics had the win, and would go on to capture their seventh consecutive championship.