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Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals has gone into the NBA folklore as one of the most if not the most dramatic games in the history of basketball. The game, played between the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns at the Boston Arena on June 4 1976, was a fiercely fought out contested, with Boston desperate to keep their period of dominance going for at least one more year. The game went into three overtime periods, becoming the first Finals game to last that long. The result, born of grit, luck and some poor officiating, helped the Celtics on the road to their 13th NBA Championship.
Buildup and Events of the Game
The Celtics were returning to the finals, having missed out during the 1974/1975 season after lifting the 1974 edition. They finished the season with 54 wins, and then went past the Buffalo Braves and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Suns, a young franchise that had started in 1968 was making it to the finals for the first time. Before this season, they had only made it to the playoffs one time. The finished the season with 42 wins then beat the Seattle Supersonics and 1975 champions Golden State Warriors to reach the finals.
In the first four games the teams exchanged home wins. Coming into the game the Suns and the Celtics were tied at 2-2 in the series. Up to this point the teams had been fairly evenly matched, with the Celtics’ revered defense able to contain a young and fast Suns attacking setup. The game started in dream fashion for the Celtics as they took a 32-12 lead within the first nine minutes. However the Suns came back strongly in the second quarter and in the final two quarters were able to contain the Celtics, ending regulation time at 95-95.
In the first overtime, each of teams scored six points leaving the scores tied, albeit with controversy galore. With time running out, Paul Silas of the Celtics appeared to call for a timeout despite the team being out of timeouts. The referee did not call for a technical foul and instead allowed Silas to inbound. In second overtime, more timeout drama followed. With four seconds left, John Havlicek scored a 15-foot shot which put the Celtics one point up. Chaotic scenes followed as Celtic fans flooded the court to celebrate. With one second still left, the officials needed to clear the floor and restart play. During the break the devised a clever ploy to take advantage of the timeout foul.
When order returned, Paul Westphal called a timeout, for which the Suns were penalized. The Celtics scored their free throw, but it meant that the Suns would inbound from half court. Gar Head managed to make a rushed jump shot from the inbound to tie the scores at 112-112 to send the game into a third overtime. Boston reserve Glenn McDonald scored six points to help the Celtics win 128-126. In game 6 two days later, the Celtics won 87-80 to clinch a 13 championship for the franchise.