Today in sports history (1974), the Boston Celtics beat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in the 1974 NBA Finals. This was the Bucks’ second finals appearance and their first in three years.
Even though it was only a three-year absence, the Bucks were missing some pieces from their 1971 victory, most notably at the guard position. Oscar Robertson was still on the team, but at this point in his career, he was 35 and only contributing 12.7 points per game and just over six assists per game. Lucius Allen, who stepped up in Robertson’s diminishing role, was averaging 17.6 points per game, but he was injured in the 1974 NBA Finals.
On Boston’s side of the ball, they set a franchise record for most wins in a season, with 68, the season before. John Havlicek was injured in the previous playoffs. He was back stronger this year. Joining a recovered Havlicek were Dave Cownes, Paul Silas and Jojo White. All four of whom were primed for a big season. They ousted the defending champion New York Knicks in five before reaching the finals.
Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks Split the First Four
With the aforementioned Allen being hurt, the Celtics took advantage of Robertson’s age. Not only was Robertson forced into turnovers, but Bucks’ guard Ron Williams was also the recipient of harassment. Bucks’ center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did all that he could, scoring 35 points, but ultimately went down 98-83. With the guard play being poor, the Bucks elected to run the offense through Abdul-Jabbar in the post for Game 2. Abdul-Jabbar turned into a passer, which allowed Bob Dandridge to score 24 points. This was also a game where Celtics center Dave Cowens struggled from the field. Abdul-Jabbar held Cowens to just 8-22 shooting. After Abdul-Jabbar blocked Cowens at the buzzer, the Bucks won 105-96.
Just as Milwaukee adjusted in Game 2, Boston made their adjustments for Game 3. This included Cowens taking outside shots to force Abdul-Jabbar out of the paint. Even with foul trouble, Cowens scored 30 points in 32 minutes. Boston was also able to ride their defense, forcing Milwaukee into 11 first-quarter turnovers. Even though Abdul-Jabbar scored 26 points, the defense from Henry Finkel provided a spark for Boston. In total, the Bucks turned the ball over 27 times and Boston won Game 3, 95-83. The Bucks were able to curb the turnover problems in Game 4, as they used Mickey Davis. Davis was big enough to exploit White’s defense, giving Robertson the ability to play his game. Milwaukee won Game 4, 97-89.
Celtics Beat Bucks in 1974 NBA Finals
Game 5 was the Celtics’ game, as Havlicek and Cowens scored 28 apiece, while Abdul-Jabbar scored 37. Boston won the game, 96-87, and went up 3-2 in the series. In Game 6, Cowens once again got into foul trouble and was forced to watch a lot of the game from the bench. Down six late in the game, Boston stormed back and sent the game to overtime. In overtime, Robertson’s pass was stolen by Don Chaney and pushed ahead to Havlicek. With the score at 90-88, Boston needed a quick bucket to stay in the game. Abdul-Jabbar forced Havlicek to take a long jumper, which he missed. Havlicek rebounded his own shot and put in the rebound to send the game to a second overtime.
In the second overtime, the lead changed 11 times. The game went back and forth with Abdul-Jabbar hitting a skyhook, followed by Havlicek hitting a pull-up jumper, followed by a Robertson basket and a White basket. Davis put the Bucks up one with 24 seconds remaining. Havlicek hit a baseline floater over Abdul-Jabbar to give the Celtics a one-point lead. That’s when Abdul-Jabbar hit one of the most famous shots in basketball, where he rose for a 17-foot skyhook and hit the game-winner with two seconds left.
Finally, in Game 7, the Celtics triple-teamed Abdul-Jabbar, holding the giant to 26 points. The Celtics won Game 7, 102-87 and claimed the 1974 NBA Finals victory.