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NBA Finals Rematches in the 1950s, '60s and '70s

By Edited Jan 20, 2016 0 0

Things will be different this year. That was the message Tim Duncan delivered after his San Antonio Spurs clinched a Finals rematch with the Miami Heat. The Spurs had a five-point lead in Game Six of the 2013 Finals, only to see the Heat rally and win in overtime. The Heat won Game Seven to earn their second straight championship and leave what Duncan called a "bad taste" in the Spurs' mouths. 

We won't know how accurate Duncan's statement is until at least four games into the series, but in the meantime let's look at how previous Finals rematches have gone.

Minneapolis Lakers vs. New York Knicks

A scheduling conflict left the Lakers unable to play in their home city, so the 1952 Finals began in St. Paul, Minn. The teams split the first two games there, then headed to New York and split the next two. Back in St. Paul for Game Five, George Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen each scored 32 points for the Lakers, who won 102-89. The Knicks played in front of only 3,000 hometown fans in Game Six but tied the series with a 78-68 win. Unfortunately for the Knicks, Game Seven would be played in the suddenly available Minneapolis Auditorium, where they had gone 0-11 over four seasons. This time would be no different, as the Lakers won 82-65 to capture the championship.

Game One of the 1953 Finals was actually played in Minneapolis, although once again not in the Auditorium. The Knicks scored 3o points in the game's final quarter to win 96-88. However, New York's excitement was short-lived, as the Lakers won the next four games and captured their fourth championship. 

Boston Celtics vs. St. Louis Hawks

Bill Russell had a connection to both teams competing in the 1957 Finals. The Hawks had taken him with the third pick in the previous year's draft and then traded him to the Celtics for Ed Macauley and the draft rights to Cliff Hagan. The Celtics came into the Finals boasting the league's Most Valuable Player, Bob Cousy, and the Rookie of the Year, Tom Heinsohn. With time running out in Game Six in St. Louis, Hagan tapped in teammate Bob Pettit's missed shot to give the Hawks a 96-94 win and keep the series alive. Game Seven at Boston Garden went into double overtime and saw the Celtics escape with a 125-123 win and the title.

The visiting Hawks surprised the Celtics by beating them 104-102 in Game One of the 1958 Finals, but Boston responded with a 136-112 win in Game Two. Russell suffered an ankle injury in Game Three in St. Louis, and the Hawks won 111-108. The Celtics won Game Four 109-98 without Russell, bur the Hawks squeaked by with a 102-100 road victory to take a 3-2 series lead. Pettit tied a Finals record by scoring 50 points in Game Six as the Hawks won 110-109. It would be the only time in four Finals appearances against the Celtics that the Hawks would take home the trophy.

The Celtics won a then-league record 59 games in the 1959-60 season and headed to the Finals hoping to repeat as world champions. Boston enjoyed three blowout victories over St. Louis, but after six games the series was tied 3-3. Game Seven in Boston was the setting for another triumph by the hometown team, as the Celtics enjoyed an 83-47 rebounding average over the Hawks and won 122-103. The two teams once again faced each in the 1961 Finals. Boston set the tone of the series with  a 129-95 Game One victory. St. Louis would only win Game Three as the Celtics claimed their fourth championship in five years.

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

The 1962 Finals  marked the first of many times these teams faced each other for a championship. After splitting the first two games in Boston, the Celtics and Lakers traveled to the Sports Arena in Los Angeles for Game Three. A record crowd of 15,180 saw the Lakers win 117-115 thanks to Los Angeles' Jerry West intercepting a pass intended for Bob Cousy and scoring a layup in the final seconds. The Celtics tied the series with a 115-103 Game Four victory, but Laker Elgin Baylor scored a Finals record 61 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in Los Angeles' 126-121 Game Five win in Boston. But the Lakers failed to end the series back home, losing 119-105 in Game Six. Game Seven went into overtime, and in front of their hometown fans the Celtics won 110-107 to earn their fourth straight championship.

In a March 1963 article, Sports Illustrated described the Celtics as "old" and "tired." Nevertheless, they earned a rematch with the Lakers in that year's Finals. After two Celtics wins in Boston, the Lakers won Game Three in Los Angeles 119-99. The Celtics gained a seemingly insurmountable series lead by winning Game Four 108-105, but the Lakers stayed alive with a 126-119 Game Five win. While Tom Heinsohn was ejected and Cousy scored only 12 points before fouling out, Baylor scored 43 points and West added 32. The visiting Celtics defeated the Lakers 112-109 in Game Six for their fifth consecutive title.

The Celtics set a new record by winning 62 games in the 1964-65 season but had to survive a seven-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers to return to the Finals. The Lakers, meanwhile, had to contend with the absence of the injured Baylor. Boston held West to only 26 points in Game One and crushed the visiting Lakers 142-110. West scored 45 in Game Two, but the Celtics won 129-123. The Lakers had better luck on the West Coast, winning 126-105. Undaunted, the Celtics won the next two games and the championship. Suffering from an eye injury, Russell still grabbed 30 rebounds in Game Five. The Lakers forced a Game Seven in the 1966 Finals, but once again the Celtics won the deciding contest at home. Following the season, Russell replaced Red Auerbach, becoming the first black head coach in a major American sport.

Having surrendered the championship to the 76ers in 1967, the Celtics reasserted their dominance by beating the Lakers in six games in the 1968 Finals. Boston's John Havlicek scored 40 points in the Celtics' 124-109 Game Six victory. Entering the 1969 Finals, the Lakers looked as if they might finally be able to beat the Celtics. Los Angeles had the best record in the Western Division, while the Celtics finished fourth in the Eastern. West scored 53 points in Game One, a 120-118 Lakers victory. Havlicek outscored West 43-41 in Game Two, but the Lakers won 118-112. Laker dreams of a sweep ended with a 111-105 Game Three loss in Boston. Sam Jones' last-second shot over Wilt Chamberlain gave the Celtics an 89-88 victory in Game Four, but the Lakers won Game Five in Los Angeles 117-104, putting themselves only one victory away from the title. That victory never came. The Celtics won Game Six 99-90 and Game Seven 108-106 and earned their 11th championship. Despite his team's loss, West, who had recorded a triple double in Game Seven, was named Finals Most Valuable Player. 

New York Knicks vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Looking to finally end his team's championship drought, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke hired Bill Sharman as head coach for the 1971-72 season. The move paid off as the Lakers won 33 consecutive games and finished the regular season with a 69-13 record, the best in NBA history to that point. The Knicks, on the other hand, had lost several key players in recent years. But Game One of the 1972 Finals suggested history would repeat itself as the visiting Knicks won 114-92. The Lakers tied the series with a 106-92 Game Two win and then enjoyed a 22-point lead on their way to a 107-86 Game Three victory in New York. Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain fell and sprained his wrist in the first quarter of Game Four but elected to keep playing. His shot blocking led the Lakers to a 116-111 overtime victory. There was talk that Chamberlain wouldn't play in Game Five in Los Angeles, but he received an anti-inflammatory injection before the contest and proceeded to score 24 points and grab 29 rebounds as the Lakers won 114-100.

The 1973 Finals also began in Los Angeles, but this time it was the Lakers who enjoyed the early advantage, winning 115-112. New York's 99-95 Game Two victory was sealed when Laker Jeff McMillian missed two free throws with 24 seconds left. Despite Knicks forwards Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere shooting a combined 8-for-27 in Game Three in New York, the Knicks won 87-83. DeBusschere shot 11-for-15 in Game Four's first half, but the game was close until the end. Bradley missed a shot with 48 seconds left and the Knicks leading by two, and DeBusschere grabbed the deflected ball and scored as Chamberlain fouled him. DeBusschere made the free throw and the Knicks won 103-98. Earl Monroe scored eight points in the final two minutes of Game Five in Los Angeles and the Knicks won 102-93, giving them their second championship in four years.

Washington Bullets vs. Seattle SuperSonics

Neither team had dominated their conference during the regular season - the Bullets finished third in the East, while the Sonics finished fourth in the West - but both teams found themselves in the 1978 Finals. The Sonics overcame a 19-point deficit and won Game One 106-102 at home thanks to "Downtown" Fred Brown's scoring 16 points in the game's final nine minutes. An adjusted schedule meant the next two games would be played in Washington, but the Bullets fell behind in the series 2-1. A Finals record 39,457 people gathered in the Kingdome (the Seattle Coliseum was being occupied by a mobile home show) for Game Four, only to see the Bullets win in overtime 120-116. The teams split the next two games, setting up a deciding Game Seven in Seattle. The Sonics cut an 11-point lead to four with 90 seconds left, but the Bullets held on to win 105-99, becoming Washington's first championship team in 36 years. 

Winning the 1979 Finals would have made the Bullets the NBA's first repeat champions since the Celtics a decade earlier. This time both teams dominated their conferences, with the Bullets having the league's best overall record. Less than two days after surviving a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, the Bullets took a 1-o Finals lead with a 99-97 Game One victory at home. The Sonics won the next two games by 10 points each, and Seattle's Dennis Johnson blocked a shot with three seconds left in overtime in Game Four to give his team a 114-112 victory. The Bullets led by eight at halftime of Game Five in Washington, but the Sonics went on a 12-0 run near the end of the third quarter and ultimately triumphed 97-93 to win their first championship. 



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