40-years ago today, Hall of Famer Rick Barry broadcasted what he called “the most exciting game I’ve ever seen.”
On June 4, 1976, the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics took the court at Boston Garden. What was a typical Friday night NBA Finals game with no significance other than breaking a 2-2 tie, would have turned out to be one of the most historic nights in NBA history.
The Game 5 tiebreaker turned into a triple-overtime thrill (the longest Finals game in NBA history) with more excitement than anyone could have expected. A Phoenix team, nothing more than an expansion team born less than a decade earlier and an NBA powerhouse Boston Celtics played what most people still believe was the greatest overall NBA game of all time.
The game can be identified by a timeout Boston’s Paul Silas attempted to call at the end of overtime, which would have resulted in a technical foul. However, referee Richie Powers chose to ignore the call and allow the teams to play on. If he acknowledged the call, the Suns would have shot a foul shot and possibly won the game.
During the second overtime, the Suns took a one-point lead with four seconds remaining, but Boston’s John Havlicek bolted down the court and banked in a 15-foot shot giving Boston the lead. As fans rushed the court in excitement, referees noticed that there was one second still remaining on the clock. After calming the court and returning fans to their seats, officials put one second back on the clock.
Once Phoenix got the ball, Paul Westphal called a timeout the Suns didn’t have. After receiving the timeout, the Celtics were able to shoot a technical foul shot and took a two-point lead. It wasn’t bad strategy as the Suns were able to inbound the ball at mid-court. Gar Heard caught the inbound pass, turned, and sunk the game-tying shot to send the game into triple-overtime, a shot that silenced Boston Garden.
With key players fouling out for both teams, reserves became critical in this third overtime. It came down to bench player, Glen McDonald, who scored six points in the final overtime, leading the Celtics to an exhausting 128-126 victory. Two days later, the Celtics beat the Suns 87-80 to win their 13th NBA Championship.