Reflecting on Franchise's Memorable Game 7s
It’ll be do or die. Win or go home. Winner takes all.
However you want to phrase it, survival will be at stake when the 76ers face the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Scotiabank Arena.
Sunday’s showdown between the Atlantic Division rivals will mark the 16th time in Sixers’ franchise history that a postseason series lasts seven games, and, as you'll read, the second time the Sixers and Raptors go the distance.
Here’s a look back at five notable Game 7 wins from the past:
1955 Finals – Syracuse Nationals 92, Fort Wayne Pistons 91
This Game 7 victory was the definition of redemption. Led by Dolph Schayes, the injury-riddled Syracuse Nationals lost the Finals in seven games to the Minneapolis Lakers the previous year. Schayes himself played the 1954 series with a broken wrist.
Back in the Finals again in 1955 – and this time healthy – the Nats found themselves in a dogfight with the Pistons. The home team won every game of the series, and fortunately Game 7 was in Syracuse.
The win was still a tough one, as the game came down to the wire. Guard George King was the hero, securing the victory on a go-ahead free throw that was then quickly followed up by the game-winning steal in the final seconds.
1977 Eastern Conference Semifinals – 76ers 83, Boston Celtics 77
The 76ers’ first playoff series with Julius Erving pitted the fabulous Doctor against the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics. Up until Game 7, the series had been a high-scoring affair, with the Sixers averaging 112 points and Boston 107. Well, the do-or-die finale was a defensive morass, as both clubs combined to shoot 31.4% from the field.
The saving grace for the Sixers was a 23-26 night from the foul line (compared to Boston’s 23-35 performance from the charity stripe). Leading the victorious charge was World B. Free, who came off the bench to finish with a game-high 27 points while going a perfect 7 for 7 from the line.
1981 Eastern Conference Semifinals – 76ers 99, Milwaukee Bucks 98
Both teams won 60-plus games during the regular season, and this matchup deserved a bigger stage than just the conference semis. Nonetheless, the performances in Game 7 were sterling.
Julius Erving (28 pts, 7 reb, 6 blk) and Bobby Jones (21 pts) were the obvious outstanding players for the Sixers. Yet, the series’ savior was Caldwell Jones.
During the final minute of the game – with the Sixers holding a 97-95 lead – Caldwell’s and Darryl Dawkins’ key offensive rebounds drained 40 precious seconds off the clock. The eternal possession prevented the Bucks from tying the game and with about 20 seconds left, the Bucks had to intentionally foul Caldwell.
At this point in his five-year career, Caldwell was only a 69% free throw shooter. Well, he calmly sank both free throws, finished the series 24-27 (89%) from the line, and propelled the Sixers to the Eastern Conference Finals.
1982 Eastern Conference Finals – 76ers 120, Boston Celtics 106
In the 1981 East Finals, the Sixers lost in seven games to Boston after blowing a 3-1 series lead.
In 1982, the Sixers were again up 3-1, and again lost the lead as the Celtics forced a Game 7.
A year wiser, the Sixers traveled to Boston and received superb performances from Erving, Bobby Jones, Caldwell Jones, and Maurice Cheeks.
But the man of the hour was Andrew Toney, who torched the Celtics for 34 points on a slew of slinky midrange jumpers.
This was the game that solidified Toney’s reputation as “the Boston Strangler,” and his shooting stroke propelled the Sixers to their first – and so far, only – Game 7 road win in franchise history.
2001 Eastern Conference Finals – 76ers 88, Toronto Raptors 87
This rollercoaster ride series is largely remembered for Allen Iverson and Vince Carter torching the nets. But in the decisive Game 7, it was the supporting cast of both teams that carried the day, as Carter and Iverson both struggled to score.
Dikembe Mutombo was a mountain in the middle with 17 rebounds. Second-year man Jumaine Jones had the best game of his playoff career with 6 for 9 shooting en route to 16 points. Aaron McKie delivered 22 points. And with the game on the line, Tyrone Hill made a lunging contest of Carter’s last-second jumper.
Thrown off-balance by the closeout, the Raptor All-Star’s shot careened off the back iron and the Sixers moved on to battle the Milwaukee Bucks in the East Finals, another series that ended with a Game 7 triumph.