Riding the NBA stairway to 7

The Cleveland Cavaliers are swimming upstream against history. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win a championship. And only three teams have ever won a seventh game on the road.

For just the third time in history, a team has forced a seventh game after trailing 3-1 in the NBA Finals. That would be the Cavaliers, who will go to the mat against the Warriors on the road in Oakland.

In 1951, the Knicks trailed the Rochester Royals 3-0 and rallied to force a Game 7 but lost 79-75 in the final game (shown above). Arnie Risen led all scorers with 24 points as Rochester won its only NBA Championship. The Royals later moved West, first to Cincinnati, then Kansas City-Omaha, and eventually Sacramento. Somewhere in transit they become the Kings.

In 1966 the Lakers trailed the Celtics 3-1, only to win twice and force a decisive game. Boston held on to win that game 95-93 at the Boston Garden and capture a record eighth straight NBA championship. Bill Russell scored 25 points and took down 32 rebounds to lead the way.

Seventh games are a rarity in the NBA Finals. Cleveland-Golden State is just the 19th Game 7 since the league’s first playoff in 1947. Since 1984, only six Finals, including this one, have gone the distance.

And the home team – that would be the Warriors – has the decided edge if history proves true to form. Only three teams have won a seventh game game on the road. The last team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road was the Washington Bullets, who beat the Supersonics in Seattle. The Bullets won 105-89 behind center Wes Unseld, who was named MVP.

The Celtics did it twice – in 1974 against the Bucks in Milwaukee and.in 1969 against the Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum. In 1974, the road team won five times, including the last four games. The Celtics won 102-87 in what turned out to be Oscar Robertson’s final game.

In 1969, Boston, which finished in fourth place in the Eastern Division, came back to take the last two games as Russell outplayed Wilt Chamberlain. Boston held onto what had been a 17-point lead in the finale to win its 11th title 108-106.

Jerry West became the only player on a losing team to win Finals MVP. LA owner Jack Kent Cooke had thousands of balloons in the rafters ready to be released when the Lakers won. The balloons never came down.


Will these Knicks have the 1973 knack?

The 1973 Knicks….and Spike Lee….were reunited recently at Madison Square Garden.

Through the years, New York sports fans have been spoiled by success. The Yankees have won more championships than any other professional team in North America. The Giants have won a pair of Super Bowls since 2008, both stirring wins over the favored new England Patriots. The Mets and the Jets have experienced miracle moments. Even the Rangers ended a 54-year drought to win the 1994 Stanley Cup.

And then there are the New York Knicks, Gotham’s answer to the Chicago Cubs, who for all their failures throughout the years might as well be stationed in Cleveland.

The Knicks enter the playoffs as second seed in the East, a team with high expectations but also a team with the weight of the world on its shoulders.

It’s been 40 years since the Knicks, one of the NBA’s two remaining charter franchises (the Boston Celtics are the other), last won a title. Back in 1973. Watergate was percolating, gasoline cost 40 centers a gallon, and George Steinbrenner was buying the Yankees from CBS for $12 million.

Things were different on the court too. For the most part, the game was played below the rim. The players wore tight shorts and funny sneakers and had long hair. And there was no three-point line.

Some refer to the 1973 Knicks as the forgotten champions. New York had won its first NBA title three years earlier, a championship ingrained in basketball lore when injured center Willis Reed walked on the Madison Square Garden court to spark his teammates to a Game 7 victory.

After losing the  Lakers in five games in the NBA Finals in 1972, the Knicks realized their window of opportunity was closing fast. But with a Hall of Fame starting five — Reed was joined by forwards Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley and guards Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe — the Knicks beat Boston in seven games in the Eastern finals, then took Los Angeles in five games for the championship.

Every Knick team since then has been unfavorably compared to those two championship squads of the early 70s.

Until recently, no known footage of that 1973 championship clincher existed. Proving that perhaps you can go back, the MSG Network recently unearthed a copy of that Game 5 win.


Can Celtics-Lakers Push the Envelope?

Are the Celtics and Lakers on a collision course to a Game Seven? Maybe so.

Incredibly, NBA fans have witnessed just one Game Seven in the NBA Finals in the past 16 years, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs over the Detroit Pistons in 2005. Before that, turn back the clock to June 22, 1994, when Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets defeated the New York Knicks to win their first NBA championship.

Clang — that’s the sound of John Starks missing another three-pointer on his way to a 2-for-18 (0-for11 on threes) shooting performance that doomed the Knicks that night. Patrick Ewing would never come closer to a ring.

Since the NBA began play in 1946, there have been 16 seventh games in the NBA Finals. The Celtics and Lakers have played four previous winner-take-all games, with Boston winning each time — in 1962, 1966, 1969 and 1984.

Celtics 7-0 in Seventh Games
The Celtics have never lost a Game Seven in the finals. They’re a perfect 7-0. Boston beat the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks to win the championship in 1957 and again in 1960, and stopped the Milwaukee Bucks in 1974.

The Lakers are 3-5 overall in Game 7 finals, with wins against the Knicks in 1952 and the Syracuse Nationals in 1954, when the franchise called Minneapolis home, and in 1988 against the Detroit Pistons.

Los Angeles’ other Game 7 loss came in 1970, the Willis Reed game, when Walt Frazier produced one of the great Game 7 performances in history, 36 points and 19 assists.

In the first NBA Game Seven, in 1951, the Rochester Royals defeated the Knicks after New York rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force a decisive game.

NHL, MLB Game Sevens
The NHL has seen 15 seventh games since the league went to that format in 1939. Notably, five of those showdown games have occured since 2001, with Colorado, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Pittsburgh each winning one.

The Chicago BlackHawks, who ended a 49-year Stanley Cup drought by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in six games, lost Game Seven finales to Montreal in both 1965 and 1971.

In the NHL’s first Game Seven in 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings.

Major league baseball has had 35 seventh games, the last in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants for their only World Series win.


Celtics-Lakers Make History Again

Bill Russell and Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics combined to win seven NBA Finals against the Lakers.

Two years ago, the SportsLifer previewed the 2008 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers with a look back at their history in championships matchups.

Well the Celtics won that series in six games, their 17th NBA title overall and first in 22 years. Paul Pierce was named Finals MVP.

The Lakers responded in 2009, returning to the Finals for the sixth time in 10 years. Kobe Bryant led the way as Los Angeles beat Orlando in five games to won its 15th championship.

Now the two clubs who have combined for more than half of all NBA championships are meeting for the 11th time, with the Celtics holding a 9-2 advantage in previous meetings.

They’re the Lennon and McCartney of basketball, the Rogers and Astaire of hoops, the Batman and Robin of the hardwood.

They’re the Celtics and the Lakers. These two trademark NBA fantasies have combined for 30 championships, 16 by the Celtics.

They’ve clashed 10 times in the NBA Finals, beginning in 1959 when the Celtics swept the Minneapolis Lakers in four straight to start Boston’s run of eight straight titles.

The Celtics won the first eight matchups; four went the full seven games. The Lakers took the final two, the last in 1987, each in six games.

In 1962, Frank Selvy of Los Angeles had an open jumper with a chance to beat the Celtics in Game Seven. He missed and Boston won in overtime behind 30 points and 40 rebounds from Bill Russell. In that Series Laker forward Elgin Baylor scored an NBA playoff record 61 points to lift his team to a Game 5 win at the Boston Garden. However, with a chance to win the championship on their home floor, the Lakers lost Game Six, and the combatants returned to the Boston Garden for the finale.

The following year, Boston’s Bob Cousy dribbled out the clock in the final game of his historic career as the Celtics once again triumphed, this time in six games.

In 1966, the Celtics held on for a 95-93 win in Game Seven to complete their run of eight straight titles. Boston coach Red Auerbach retired after the game, with Russell assuming player-coach duties.

The Celtics won another seven-game showdown with the Lakers in 1969, although Jerry West, right, was the MVP of the Series, the only player from a losing team to win the NBA Finals MVP. West, whose 29.1 playoff scoring average ranks third to Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game Seven, but Boston prevailed 108-106 at the Los Angeles Forum.

Lakers’ owner Jack Kent Cooke was already planning his victory celebration as he ordered thousands of balloons suspended from the Forum rafters.

The Celtics and Lakers resumed their rivalry 15 years later as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, right, squared off for the first time in the playoffs. And the Celtics again won in seven games, Bird averaging 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game to win MVP honors.

The next year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the Finals MVP and the Lakers finally beat Boston, 4-2, after eight straight playoff losses. And in 1987, Magic Johnson was the Finals MVP, his “junior sky hook” proving to be the turning point of the series, giving the Lakers a 3-1 lead on the way to a six-game triumph.

And they haven’t played since. The Celtics haven’t won an NBA title since 1986, The Lakers won the title again in 1988, beating the Detroit Pistons. Los Angeles last won in 2002, completing a three-peat with a sweep of the New Jersey Nets.


Celtics-Lakers Would Be Historic NBA Final

Bill Russell and Red Auerbach combined to win eight NBA Finals against the Lakers.

They’re the Lennon and McCartney of basketball, the Rogers and Astaire of hoops, the Batman and Robin of the hardwood.

They’re the Celtics and the Lakers. These two trademark NBA fantasies have combined for 30 championships, 16 by the Celtics.

They’ve clashed 10 times in the NBA Finals, beginning in 1959 when the Celtics swept the Minneapolis Lakers in four straight to start Boston’s run of eight straight titles.

The Celtics won the first eight matchups; four went the full seven games. The Lakers took the final two, the last in 1987, each in six games.

In 1962, Frank Selvy of Los Angeles had an open jumper with a chance to beat the Celtics in Game Seven. He missed and Boston won in overtime behind 30 points and 40 rebounds from Bill Russell. In that Series Laker forward Elgin Baylor scored an NBA playoff record 61 points to lift his team to a Game 5 win at the Boston Garden. However, with a chance to win the championship on their home floor, the Lakers lost Game Six, and the combatants returned to the Boston Garden for the finale.

The following year, Boston’s Bob Cousy dribbled out the clock in the final game of his historic career as the Celtics once again triumphed, this time in six games.

In 1966, the Celtics held on for a 95-93 win in Game Seven to complete their run of eight straight titles. Boston coach Red Auerbach retired after the game, with Russell assuming player-coach duties.

The Celtics won another seven-game showdown with the Lakers in 1969, although Jerry West, right, was the MVP of the Series, the only player from a losing team to win the NBA Finals MVP. West, whose 29.1 playoff scoring average ranks third to Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game Seven, but Boston prevailed 108-106 at the Los Angeles Forum.

Lakers’ owner Jack Kent Cooke was already planning his victory celebration as he ordered thousands of balloons suspended from the Forum rafters.

The Celtics and Lakers resumed their rivalry 15 years later as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, right, squared off for the first time in the playoffs. And the Celtics again won in seven games, Bird averaging 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game to win MVP honors.

The next year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the Finals MVP and the Celtics finally beat Boston, 4-2, after eight straight playoff losses. And in 1987, Magic Johnson was the Finals MVP, his “junior sky hook” proving to be the turning point of the series, giving the Lakers a 3-1 lead on the way to a six-game triumph.

And they haven’t played since. The Celtics haven’t won an NBA title since 1986, The Lakers won the title again in 1988, beating the Detroit Pistons. Los Angeles last won in 2002, completing a three-peat with a sweep of the New Jersey Nets.