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Today in Sports History: 5/7 – Lakers Beat Knicks in 1972 NBA Championship

Today in sports history (1972), the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks in the 1972 NBA Championship. This was the Lakers’ first championship win since 1954. This championship series was also a rematch of the 1970 NBA Finals, which saw the Knicks take down the Lakers in seven games. Though the Knicks made bragging rights from their previous championship, many thought this year would yield a different result.

The 1971-72 Lakers are often described as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. With a core of Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Wilt Chamberlain and an aging Elgin Baylor, the Lakers won a record 33 games in a row in the middle of the season. Coming into the 1972 NBA Championship series, the Lakers were matched up with the Bucks in the Western Conference Finals. This, of course, gave us the next chapter of Abdul-Jabbar/Chamberlain. The Lakers beat the Bucks in six and were on to the 48-win Knicks.

Los Angeles Lakers Today in Sports History
Credit: Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Lakers Defeat New York Knicks in 1972 NBA Championship

Much like the previous time these teams faced off in the finals, Willis Reed was out of Game 1. Due to this, Jerry Lucas was running the five for the Knicks. He scored 26 points. His ability to hit shots from the outside was key in the Knicks winning Game 1. This forced Chamberlain out of the paint, allowing for drivers and cutters to succeed. Bill Bradley was the leading scorer for the Knicks in this game, scoring 29 points.

Facing criticism for losing Game 1, the Lakers were on a mission. Up only one at halftime, Knicks forward Dave DeBusschere was injured and was forced out of the game. To add to the injuries, Knicks guard Earl Monroe was also playing injured. Goodrich took advantage of the injuries, scoring 31 points and leading the Lakers to a game two win.

Splitting the first two games, Knicks fans were optimistic even with the injuries. DeBusschere tried to play, but he was pulled after missing all six of his shot attempts. Chamberlain once again took over the game, collecting 20 rebounds and scoring 26 points. West and Goodrich added another 46 points and the Lakers took Game 2.

With Game 4 almost being a must-win for the Knicks, Debusschere played all 48 minutes. West made a bucket with a couple of seconds left to give the Lakers a late lead. Walt Frazier then tipped the ball in over Chamberlain to send the game to OT. The Lakers outlasted the Knicks and won by five in OT.

The Lakers finished their 1972 NBA Championship run, beating the Knicks, 114-100, in Game 5. Chamberlain once again dominated the middle of the offense, recording 24 points, 29 rebounds, eight blocks and eight assists. For his performance in the finals, Chamberlain was named finals MVP.

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