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.

The glory days of Ohio basketball

In the early 1960s the Cold War was heating up. America was showing it had the right stuff for the space race. And the state of Ohio was the center of the basketball universe.

Now, more than 50 years later, Ohio is again dominating the NCAA basketball tournament. For the first time in NCAA tournament history, four teams from the same state — Ohio State, Cincinnati, Ohio and Xavier — have advanced to the Sweet 16.

Back in 1960, Ohio State, led by All-America center Jerry Lucas, won their only national championship, beating defending champ California, 75-55.

In 1961 and again in 1962, Cincinnati captured back-to-back NCAA championships, beating Ohio State both times in the final game.

All told, Cincinnati made it to five straight Final Fours between 1959 and 1963. And Ohio State advanced to the championship game three straight times.

Lucas, below right,  led a well-balanced Ohio State team coached by Fred Taylor.  He was named NCAA Most Outstanding Player in both 1960 and 1961 (the second time on a losing team) , and was Big Ten Player of the Year three straight times, leading OSU to a 78-6 record over three years.

Lucas and Havlicek
Other members of that famed 1960 team included John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried, both of whom went on the play for the Celtics, and a reserve named Bobby Knight, who achieved coaching immortality at Indiana University.

Oscar Robertson, one of the greatest guards ever to play basketball, was the top player on Cincinnati’s Final Four teams in 1959 and 1960 that failed to go all the way..

But the Bearcat dynasty continued after the Big O graduated under the direction of coach Ed Jucker and mainstays like Tom Thacker, Paul Hogue and Ron Bonham.

In the 1961 Final Four in Kansas City, Cincy knocked off Utah and Ohio State beat St. Joseph’s to advance to the championship. Then the Bearcats and the Buckeyes had to wait anxiously while St. Joseph’s beat Utah in a record-tying four overtimes to win the third place game.

Cincinnati trailed OSU by one point at the half, but rallied to win in overtime, 70-65, with a balanced scoring attack (four players in double figures). Lucas led all scorers with 27 points.

The following year Cincy beat UCLA, making its first appearance in the Final Four, and Ohio State topped Wake Forest and guard Billy Packer. Hogue scored 22 points and earned Most Outstanding Player honors as Cincinnati won again, 71-59.

Seeking the first three-peat in tourney history, Cincinnati advanced to the championship game in 1963 but blew a big second half lead and was upset by Loyola of Chicago, 60-58, in overtime.

The Wrap
When Cincinnati and Ohio meet in the NCAA East semifinals, it will mark their first match-up in the NCAA tournament since March 24, 1962, almost exactly 50 years ago.

Ohio State made it to the championship game in 2007 behind Greg Oden, but lost to Florida. The Buckeyes also made the Final Four in 1968 and 1999.

Cincy’s only Final Four appearance since 1962 occurred in 1992. Neither Xavier or Ohio University has ever advanced to the Final Four.